Mass Effect 2 impressions


I finished ME2 early this morning. I generally concur with the 90% Editor’s Choice award that PC Gamer gave it.

What I didn’t like was the stripping of most of the standard RPG elements (trading, lots of weapons and armors to choose from, etc.) Also, the use of the “cover and shoot” strategy was waaaaaaaayyyyyyy overused. It got silly after a while how many waist-high barriers you found at each level. It was also funny how they tried to introduce ammunition scarcity back into the game. See, in ME1, guns never ran out of ammo. However, they could overheat and this required a cool-down that to the rest of us was just like a reload. You could upgrade the firearms in the game with various items to reduce the heat buildup and extend the firing time before cool-down.

In ME2 you still have unlimited ammo, but you now need to use “thermal clips” to absorb the heat from a certain number of rounds (28 rounds for the assault rifle I used, as an example). So, after 28 rounds, you had to “reload” another thermal clip to be able to fire the weapon again. Thermal clips were scattered around the levels or dropped by enemies. While fairly common, you could run out of them for a specific weapon and need to switch. Some levels made the clips scarce and forced you to use alt-fire weapon powers, biotics (magic), engineering-based attacks, or even melee.

The clips fit any weapon other than your one “heavy weapon” in the inventory, which used a different ammo.

It was a convoluted way to reintroduce limited ammo back into the game after making such a big show of taking it out in the first one.

My biggest knock against the game is that it is buggy. It is a bit crash-prone (hey, this is Bioware, so that’s not unexpected), but I fell through the maps roughly a half-dozen times on a single-play-through. I would end up with my entire party stuck floating above everything on a balcony, railing, ledge, etc. This is simply inexcusable. I have heard (sarcasm turned on) they have people called “testers” in the gaming industry who get paid to find things like this so developers can fix them. Bioware (and Bethesda) seemingly outsource this function to the people who buy their games to perform. If I am going to beta-test their games, I want listing in the credits!

They also do some of the classics of dumb game design, like:

• Setting saves before tough fights BEFORE a cut-scene with dialog options. If I get killed, please don’t make me replay the long dialog tree with the NPC before trying again – especially if the choices impact the plot outcomes, so I can’t just jump through them. Set the auto-save for AFTER the cut-scenes!
• Respawning enemies in certain levels. The idea is that you have to reach certain map points, then the respawn moves to the next spot in front of you. Respawn is BORING, as you fight the same three-four enemies over and over again. It works against characters who snipe and draw out a battle and makes you too dependent on simply being a tank. It also wrecks the immersion in a game when enemies simply appear ahead in a sealed room. It screams, “It’s a game! It’s a game!”
• Enormous ramp-ups in difficulty on some sequences with no ability to quick-save at any point. They have spots in the game where the odds of getting killed go sky-high and you almost need to be very lucky or extremely skilled to get through. I get bored having to fight the same stuff over-and-over again to get back to the place I got killed before and try something new this time. Some sequences, especially the timed ones (I hate timed sequences) get frustrating when you battle all the way through to the end and then make a mistake in the computer hacking task that ends the mission. Let me be able to save the game!
• Fights where simply getting lucky plays too much of a role in surviving. A great firefight has a way where certain tactics, weapons, squad placement, etc., shift the odds of survival greatly in your favor. One sequence near the end seemed to just require getting lucky after a lot of tries. I finally beat it with a high-powered shotgun with fire rounds. Maybe that is the way to do it that shifts the odds, but by then I was too frustrated to replay it to find out.

What gets the high score for the game from me is that it is stunning to look at, the firefights (even with the over-reliance upon one tactic) can be astounding, and the writing and voice work is as good as it gets. It is an “adult” game in that the character interactions run as deep as the gunplay. Each companion has a story to tell, a quest that is worth doing, and is fleshed out better than the a lot of their TV and movie counterparts would be. There are no one-dimensional characters in the game. One memorable character is an assassin in his last year of life. He tells you of his philosophy, regrets, and hope for atonement via assisting in your quest. His side-mission is to prevent his estranged son from following in the assassin trade. Another is an Asari Justicar, a member of a religious order who seek out evil and destroy as sort of free-lance knight/samurai. She has spent four centuries seeking one particular serial killer – her own daughter.

I have already started a replay, this time with an imported ME1 female character. I will play her through and then have both a male and female ME2 character available to recycle for other replays. The NPC interactions do vary based on gender. The game also does have “romance” options, though this one has no nudity if you achieve it (at least it didn’t in the one involving the Quarian). ME1 get a bit of heat due to some tasteful nudity (mostly from the back). So far, my grandson hasn’t had the patience or luck to find the nude scene in ME1. He just wants to run out and blow stuff up.

Even the romance options are fairly adult, especially the ones involving the alien races. Humans and alien do hook up in the game. Indeed, one race (the Asari) strongly prefer non-Asari mates to diversify their genetics. They are a mono-gendered species (all female) and can basically mate with anything (male or female, any sentient species) to gather the genetics (and memories) they need to procreate.

The game gets much easier if you import an ME2 character in, as you start out at your current level and weaponry. It makes it a bit of a cake-walk for the first few missions. You can’t change the character name, gender, or back-story, but you can change their combat specializations, face, etc.

Some other random thoughts:

It NEEDS to have weapon hotkeys. It is cumbersome to use the scroll wheel to cycle through multiple weapons or use the left-shift to stop the action. Hotkeys are standard on other games, so why not here.

It also has the game cliché of lots of explosive containers right where enemies will congregate. Doesn’t anybody ever ask themselves, “Hey, why are we leaving all these exploding containers everywhere? We could get blown up!” Nope…

I haven’t found a way to heal my own damage yet. I can bring back dead team mates to life from a distance, but not use the healing packs on myself.

Oh, be on the lookout for a funny short side-quest involving a love-struck Krogan resorting to poetry to try to woo his Asari sweetheart back after a breakup. Do the Paragon path and get these lovebirds back together! You will be rewarded by seeing them later in an encounter that I found pretty funny. The sight of a Krogan (the ultimate warrior race) calling out love poems is a treat not to be missed. Hey, his big reptile hearts (Krogan have more than one) were breaking…

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