Major spoilers follow:
Last month I played the original Mass Effect again and completed every side-mission so that I could export the save game for Mass Effect 2. Mass Effect 2 features a ton of little nods to your decisions in the original, but, in the end, I’m not sure if it’s really all that well implemented. The problem is that I bonded or bought into the role-play of my projected identity (Gee, 2003) of my version of Shepard in how the commander became emotionally attached with various party members that when I met up with those party members in the sequel, I was disappointed with how interactions with them were treated.
For example, in my version of Mass Effect, Ashley Williams started out relatively xenophobic but loosened up towards the end as I explored her feelings with her through dialog. When I met her in ME2, though, it just seemed like she reverted to her old self, as if we didn’t become close friends at all. Most glaringly, though, was the way my Shepard interacted with her lover from the first game, Liara T’Soni. In ME2, they exchanged maybe two lines that referred to their past relationship, kissed once, and then that’s it. The rest, I assume was just scripted for any Shepard incarnation, based off of Liara’s dealings with the Shadow Broker. I know there’s a comic book prequel to ME2 that details what Liara was doing between the events in the two games, so maybe her experiences while Shepard was away were traumatic enough to warrant her distanced emotion, but *Shepard* doesn’t know anything about those details (even if I did via reading the comics), so it would make sense for them to at least spend a couple of more sentences on how the events affect their relationship.
Disappointment in how ME ties into ME2 aside, there’s a bigger problem I had with Mass Effect 2. (I should say, right off, though, that I did like ME2; I just thought it could’ve been better.) The bigger problem is that there’s not really much of an epic plot going on. Things don’t lead to other things. Piecing together a mystery was a great plot in the first game; it’s barely there in the second game. Instead, the majority of the game is spent recruiting more and more party members and then going on unique missions for each one to unlock their special ability, presumably a reflection of their augmented loyalty to Shepard. There’s no sense of urgency, really. You don’t meet party members along your desperate journey to fight the bad guys (which worked really well for almost all the previous BioWare games such as Baldur’s Gate, Knights of the Old Republic, and the first Mass Effect). Instead the game is about recruiting them and getting them set-up the way you want before eventually going through a mass relay to fight the bad guys. It just didn’t feel like there was a point to it, especially since you can only take two party members with you on a mission. Getting more than half a dozen seemed superfluous.
A funny thing I noticed: it’s actually very similar to Dragon Age: Origin‘s plot, though DA:O seemed less linear than ME2. You have to get the Dwarves to join you, for example, but before that you have to resolve an internal conflict they’re having, and you have many options for how that conflict is resolved. In ME2, you recruit NPCs by helping them with whatever they’re currently working on, but you don’t get much of a say in how it’s done. What tied Dragon Age together really, really well, was the betrayal theme underlying the whole game. ME2 doesn’t have a one-word theme that resonates as strongly, I don’t think…
Other things about the game:
- I liked how the relationship between Joker and EDI evolved to the point where they started having some pretty good chemistry and banter between them.
- I liked most of the new party members pretty well, especially Jack, Miranda Lawson, and Mordin Solis. The DLC party member Zaeed Massani was alright but not really a fully realized NPC as the others are. No dialog with him at all, really, though he does have some interesting one-liners in various situations.
- The opening prologue was extremely effective and moving. The rest of the game, not so much.
- Finally, oh man, the scanning planets for resources part of the game sucked ass. I think I even like roaming around barren landscapes in the bouncy, bouncy Mako better.
Still, this was the second in a planned trilogy of games. Arguably, it’s the lull before the climactic finale, building up anticipation for something big. I suppose I’ll hold onto my save game until then.
Gee, J. (2003). What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy.