My long-winded Mass Effect 2 rant
Posted on Wednesday, October 12 2011 @ 00:55:15 PST
With the announcement of the whole Mass Effect 3 multiplayer, I’ve said a few things I probably need to elaborate more. Mostly about Mass Effect 2, which I believe is a bit off the mark and really what invalidates any concerns about Mass Effect 3 that could come in. Because as the expression goes, once you’re at rock bottom the only way to go is up. And while it can go down further, since Mass Effect 2 is by no means a bad game, it’ll be hard to fall that far from the point twice.
But even then, every little problem is so connected with one another it’s hard to start without having to reiterate yourself several times. So let me just start with the why. Why Mass Effect 2 completely fails in regards to story is because of two reasons key reasons. One because they replaced the lead writer with a person with very different views on the way things should go, and two because they try to make it a standalone game instead of a sequel. Which, let me state, is the biggest problem here. Mass Effect 2 is a good game. Not exactly a great game, but a good game. While I may act harshly towards it that point must be made clear. However, Mass Effect 2 is not, in any regards, a good sequel. And that’s partly why I’ll draw so many comparisons between it and the Star Wars prequels. While it was a far better game than the prequels were movies, Mass Effect 2 gives the old midichlorians a few times too many.
Now if I don’t dive right into this, I’ll end up rambling like an old man going on about the Civil War and the damn punk kids, so let’s just start with the beginning. The game starts out perfectly. It is business as usual when suddenly BAM, ship’s under attack. At this point there’s very little you could do to mess it up, but things get a little wonky right before the title drop, as you’re expected to believe that someone can get blasted into space by something powerful enough to tear through both a space ship’s hull and the shields around it, float in the vacuum of space with a ruptured space suit, and then go through reentry of an ice planet (so an extreme heat and then an extreme cold) and still be in one recoverable piece when a team arrives god knows how long after. While this could be somewhat nitpicky, it’s FAR too crucial of a scene to be simply looked over or handwaved aside. This is what sets up the entirety of the plot: the two year time lapse and main antagonists are built from this encounter, as well as your character’s relationship with the entire galaxy. And of course, this sets up your relationship with Cerberus.
So let’s talk about Cerberus. This is probably Mass Effect 2’s biggest problem, as it’s more or less a total retcon. Cerberus in Mass Effect 1 is probably the second biggest antagonist of the game. Consider the events of Mass Effect 1 outside the Geth and Saren. In Noveria, the Rachni was found and had tests done on it, killing everyone involved. In Feros, the Thorian took over the minds of the colonists, killing almost everyone. Both of these events were orchestrated and backed by Cerberus. Outside of the main story, they trap you in a Thresher Maw hive, continued to conduct lethal experiments on live subjects. And so in the beginning of Mass Effect 2, when they conveniently have the means to bring your conveniently still intact body back to life, you obviously have no choice but to join them.
I know what you’re thinking right here. The real reason you join is because no one else is doing anything about the Reapers. And that’s true, but that’s also another failing of the story. You see, there’s no in-story reason why no one believes that the Reapers don’t exist. Let’s look at the facts here. This is something that Saren, a Spectre, believed so much in that he threw away his title, went rouge, and orchestrated an attack strong enough to wipe out half the combined fleet with. This is something he, Benezia, and Shepard, the three main players in this event, all claim to exist. The reason the council claimed they dismissed the idea was because they “analyzed the remains”. Now let’s think about this for a moment here. The ship was built fundamentally different from every other Geth ship. It possessed technology no other Geth ship had, despite it being able to be placed upon almost any ship only two years later. It was likely made out of a different material than any other Geth ship. It was at least ten times the size of any of the other Geth ships, which were all the same size. And from the battle it is notable that it was almost designed perfectly to be able to interact with the Citadel, possessing intimate knowledge of the structure that neither Saren nor the Geth would be able to know.
So that brings us to the main point of why. Why don’t the council believe it? Like I said, it has no in-story explination, but there are two main reasons outside of the story. The first is so that you have a reason to be forced to work with Cerberus, and the second is so that you can do a big “I told you so” to the stupid aliens later on. While this again is almost a nitpicky point in any other context, it is the main driving force of the plot of the game. The whole reason you’re sent to take out the Collectors all by yourself is because the council don’t believe you. This is a kin to the Star Wars prequels, where it’s painfully obvious that Palpatine’s orchestrating the whole thing but everyone is just too stupid to look at the facts of it all, though this is almost worse.
Now a good point was made that you can say that you aren’t actually a part of Cerberus and say that you don’t trust them. Well, while that’s a fine and dandy way of handwaving it all it still doesn’t make up for the fact that you have no choice in whether or not you obey their orders until the very end of the game.
And here’s a little nitpick. Why does no one react when they learn you were brought back from the dead? The most common excuse is that the technology is there but really costly. Still, so is a Lamborghini but I don’t think many of us can say we wouldn’t **** our pants at the sight of one.
While I could keep going on about that for longer, I have other grievances that need to be aired. So lets move on to the actual story itself. In Mass Effect 2, you assemble a team to battle the Collectors, a group of aliens probably working with the Reapers. Now I’ll outline my problem with the Collectors later on, but first let’s get to how the story is laid out. The majority of the game is spent assembling your team to fight the collectors with, and then dealing with their problems. In fact, the Collectors, the supposed main antagonist group, are seen in a total of THREE sections in the whole game, the first one not even happening until you’ve reached the approximate half way point. Now considering there are at least ten other required sections of the game, and ten more on top of that which are practically required, that’s anywhere from less than one quarter to less than one eighth of the game where the Collectors are even present. So while you know they’re there, the actual threat of the Collectors is hardly felt. Considering the entire point of the game is to stop the Collectors, you can easily see why that can be a problem.
Now I’m going to nitpick a little bit here before I move on once more. Beyond the failings of writing the Collectors in, they are the least original enemies ever. Why, you ask? Because they are literally a copy of the Chimera from Resistance 1. Let’s just write a simple character description of them. They’re a group of alien creatures that are actually genetically mutated to be very different, like a different species, from their former selves. They possess advanced weaponry, but their biggest weapon is not their guns but instead the swarms of insects that they can release upon an area. These insects find people and put them into a sort of coma or stasis. While they’re in this stasis, the aliens gather them up and place them in cocoons and take them to a processing plant. At the processing plant, their matter is broken down and reformed in a way that works for the aliens. They also use people to create more mindless servants and soldiers for them, including more powerful and larger creatures made up of multiple humans. They also lack all free will on their own, instead controlled by a psychic link to their leader, whose presence can turn the tide of battle. Basically, every single one of those applies to both the Chimera and Collectors.
Regardless, back on topic. The big thing with Mass Effect 2 is that as far as the overall story for the trilogy goes, you do not advance from your original position at all. The entire point of the game was to assemble a team to stop the Collectors because they’re working for the Reapers. However, the team you assembled is more or less useless against the Reapers, and defeating the Collectors does absolutely nothing for the story. In the beginning of Mass Effect 2, the Reapers are coming and you have to get ready for them. In the end of Mass Effect 2, the Reapers are coming and you have to get ready for them. Considering the Reapers still arrive in a VERY short time after you defeat the Collectors, what did defeating them even accomplish? If you had let them continue their collecting, what difference would it have made? The ONLY difference is whether or not Cerberus has possession of the Collector’s base. So once again, while this would’ve been amazing if it was a standalone game, considering it’s both a sequel to one and a prequel to three, it’s a waste of space. Now the main story of the game has to be done in two games instead of three.
And the last thing here (which I almost forgot to touch on and had to come back to AFTER I wrote everything following it) is the whole choices thing. Besides a few cameos here and there, the choices you made in Mass Effect 1 are mostly trivial in this game, meaning that they really aren’t going to make an impact until Mass Effect 3, again showing how unimportant the game is to the overall motion of the trilogy.
Now that’s just outlining the problems it has as a part of the trilogy and its story. I could keep going for even longer about the problems it has in regards to being a game. So I will, though this is a lot shorter of a section.
First problem the game itself has is the enemies in it. As I mentioned before, the Collectors, your main antagonists, are only seen for a tiny portion of the game, and the majority of the rest of the game is shooting enemies. So then who are the enemies? Well, to fill the gap we’ve been given two groups of enemies. The first is the Geth. There is no major problem with this. The Geth are established enemies who have probable motives. The second set of enemies are different groups of nameless, faceless mercenaries. They have no motives beyond money, and it’s very hard to get motivated to fight them as enemies, as they don’t really do anything except for shoot at you. Over half of the game is spent fighting these generic mercenaries with zero relevance to the plot.
There are also some issues with the characters. Since this is a more opinionated part, I’ll try to leave myself out of it and instead only post facts. Of the ten loyalty missions, five of them are directly solving one character’s parental (more specifically father) issues. Of the five that are not, two are about a lack of a childhood and one is about other family issues. So of the ten loyalty missions, eight of them are about family issues. Now I’m no detective, but that strikes me as a little obvious, and makes me wonder a bit about the lead writer. Oh, and the two that aren’t about family issues are about previously failing at their job and trying to fix it.
As far as the actual gameplay goes, it’s good. The issues with it are really the heat sinks, the smaller amount of biotic/tech powers, the lack of customization both of weapons and character stats. Now I know a lot of people didn’t like the way the weapon customization was done in Mass Effect 1, and I don’t blame you. It didn’t bother me, but I could see why it would. But rather than simply chuck it out the window, it would’ve been far better to improve it and build upon it, as it would allow a greater variation in gameplay and what have you. Same with the downgraded number of powers, and heatsinks were just not added all that well (why can I run out of them for one gun and not another if they’re universal?). That said, what they did do was fluid, fun, and worked well the way they did it.
Really though, as I said in the beginning I did enjoy Mass Effect 2, and I do believe that it’s a good game on its own. I don’t regret my purchase of it, and I had enough fun playing it. The problem with it, that I took 2,500 words to outline (OH GOD WHAT AM I DOING WITH MY LIFE?), is that it’s a standalone game (without being a completely seperate game). If it was not a standalone game, it would be fine, but considering it’s the middle part of a trilogy but doesn’t advance the overall plot of the trilogy, the sequel to a game that it constantly retcons, a main enemy that isn’t important to the other games, and so on, well, it’s hard to say that it isn’t ****ed up.
Now let me just end with saying, considering all of that, it won’t be hard to completely forget Mass Effect 2 and go straight from 1 to 3. So that’s something good about Mass Effect 3 I guess. The only way that it could cause problems is if they decide to make it a standalone game also.