Mass Effect 2
Now we're getting somewhere. By the time I finished the second Mass Effect installment, I was hooked. While the first one does a good job setting up the alien races, politics, and backstory for the fictional universe, the actual gameplay is pretty poor. Mass Effect 2 Legendary Edition (ME2) improves on a lot of that and delivers a solid gameplay experience, even by 2023 standards.
FYI: There are spoilers below.
The team did away with several annoying mechanics from the first installment (ME1):
- You don’t have to trek back to the Normandy every time you finish a mission and you're dropped back in front of the Galaxy Map so you can go immediately onto the next thing.
- There's less purposeless walking. In ME1, there were so many times where I noticed how large and empty the buildings or landscapes were...for no apparent reason. I thought maybe the developers wanted me to think "wow, this place really feels like the boundless void of space." Featureless corridors between openable doors extended for what felt like miles and added a lot of walking time.
- Amost no elevators– which seemed to be the default for getting anywhere in ME1. Each time you'd get in, the game would make you watch a silly animation of Shepard standing in formation with his squad as they changed floors.
- No Mako! The clumsy tank-like vehicle doesn't feature at all, except in the crash-site of the Normandy.
- You can make Shepard look hilarious in the character modifier
- Also, this wonderfully gross meat armor:
The Legendary Edition of ME2 looks really good on a 4K screen. Watching side-by-sides with the original version makes it look even better.
I was also blown away by some of the cool and vibey settings like this one:
In terms of storyline, ME2 gets a bit too complicated for its own good. I can't tell what benefit bringing in the whole Cerberus/Illusive Man dynamic serves. In fact, this just feels like another ripoff. My main complaint with ME1 was that it felt like a wannabe Halo. Introducing the Illusive Man feels like the BioWare team really wanted their own "G-Man" from Half Life. If we needed a shady, Machiavellian actor, why not just make him a morally-questionable admiral in the Alliance Fleet? Instead, we have this whole bizarre paramilitary/pseudo-terrorist organization who the developers have to explain by killing Shepard only to immediately him back from the dead AND rebuild a newer, better Normandy. It just adds a lot of hoop-jumping into the plot for little gain, since Shepard, the Normandy, and its crew act in essentially the same way as they would have as Alliance Fleet members for the rest of the game.
Shepard has a tad more inflection in his voice, but he's still a flat character without an arc. I can't really point to anywhere in the story where he's learning from his mistakes or changing. He's always the same crusty marine who's seen some shit.
As above, I think the game proceeds to bring in too many team members and there's a lot of the story that feels like Oceans 11 or something where you're going around recruiting a heist team. If you're like me and you mostly play the main storyline, the opportunities to emotionally connect to any of these characters is diluted by the sheer quantity of them. You can have 12! There's just not enough time or reason to have that many.
When I did do one of the squadmate side-quests because the game forced me to (I had to wait for the Reaper IFF device to come online or something) I went to Jack's biotic kid asylum to blow it up. Her character was tortured by the Cerberus group and molded into a bitter, biotic wizard with highly destructive capability. After I completed this and could go on the finale "suicide mission" to the Collector base in the center of the galaxy, Jack died immediately! I said "oh" to myself and then moved on. Also, I don't want to sound Victorian or anything, but how is this a practical outfit to go tromping around the chilly galaxy in, developers?
There were stretches of time where I'd become really immersed in the story, but then funny things like this would happen and snap me out of it:
- I don’t love the mission selector interface on the Galaxy Map. Feels clunky to move this tiny ship around. I actually prefer the ME1 map interface where you can much more easily hop the cursor between star clusters.
- I never once used a probe. Not really sure what that extra mechanic was for.
- You still have to deal with a lack of a heads-up display objective system to keep yourself pointed in the right direction. Still lots of flipping between the Journal and the Map to figure out where to go/what to do.
- They moved the Equipment into weapons lockers that you have to stumble upon which is kind of annoying
- Still struggling with minor step ups. With an XBox controller, if you press "A" near any kind of wall or object, you crouch down. You had to repeat this crouch dynamic every time you wanted to hurtle over an obstruction and it felt clunky.
Overall, I liked ME2! I dove right into ME3 as soon as I'd finished. More on that soon.