I finished Mass Effect 2 last night. Don’t worry. No spoilers in here.
I found the overall structure of the game interesting. Unlike the first game, which paced you along with about five or six major plot arc missions, this one kind of dangled a major challenge in front of you. All the other missions are completely built around this one challenge in the end. There’s little room for side exploration.
And I mean that. One of the things I found myself missing from the first game was the exploration. No, I absolutely do not miss the Mako. But when you went down to the planet surface for some assignment, you go straight into the action. No Mako drop, no drive out there. The game really pushes you along, and if you leave many of these assignments there is no returning. Except for reloading the mission, the game is pretty bad about letting you recheck certain areas.
For every one thing I miss from the first game, there are two things I don’t.
For starters, the inventory system. What your party can and cannot equip has been streamlined, while the upgrades to your gear with a few quick clicks on the research team. This is so much easier than before, where you would have to go through the inventory screen, find the best weapon, equip it then find the best ammo and upgrades and then do this for every weapon slot and armor.
I also really like how each weapon and armor has unique properties with regard to firing rate, damage per shot and ammo capacity. There was no variety with this from the previous game, but having experienced the FPS options you get from Brink, I still feel there wasn’t enough of that firearm variety in this game.
I love how the weapons and armor upgrades are universal and applied everywhere immediately. But not before some tiring planet probing. It was like they had to add a grind in there somewhere so why not here? The mini-game aspect of it isn’t that bad, but after a while of it you get bored. So note to self, if I ever create a game (and I’ve been thinking about one helluva one for sometime), I will:
1) Allow the mini-games to be nicely spaced throughout the main game.
2) Make them completely optional, but considerably rewarding.
3) Find a way to add the character’s personalities to them to spice it up.
The grind isn’t fun, and isn’t as rewarding as regular gameplay. Not many games have figured this out, but in my opinion RPGs should be grindless, like Diablo 2. There’s so much satisfaction derived from slaying monsters in that game, and the loot system is the perfect Pavlovian response to keep you going.
But there are game rewards, and real rewards. Not just things that help you survive but the humor and joking that you get to keep post-game, and sometimes share with the nerds you call friends. When EDI gave me sass for probing Uranus, I laughed so hard. That’s the quips I could use while I play. Like so.
Don’t misunderstand me. I know that these kind of great quirks and scripted moments are not as developmentally scalable as loot or resources (although Team Fortress 2 pushes this out a new gag with every new item they sell). But they make the game unforgettable.
Believe it or not however, I really miss the leveling system. In the previous game, it was kind of like a little reward. The abilities each character has in this game make them more unique and intriguing, but they didn’t reward me fast enough. Choosing your team’s abilities in smaller increments can be quite satisfying. However, I did like how each ability ended in one of two choices to make them more powerful however, adding a nice twist on reaching the top.
Combat was a definite improvement. I feel as though they snatched an idea or two from Dead Space, like having these in game HUD displays for ammo. But I cannot chide them for it: A good idea is a good idea. Anything to reduce UI clutter. The cover system was also greatly improved; I actually used it now, and used it extensively. The clumsiness of the previous game’s fighting is gone, although I was shocked that I have to collect ammo.
Mass Effect 2 was full of interesting changes compared to the original game, and most were improvements. But I kind of worry that the considerable number of changes can risk a game losing sight of what made it so great. Sometimes it’s these tiny details of how the game is played that make it awesome. And if those features are lost with nothing better replacing them, it just feels different and not quite right.