Mass Effect 2 Art

I hit the 20-hour mark last night in Mass Effect 2 (ME2), and I've got quite a list of review notes going. Much, much more than I would have anticipated before starting the game, actually.

To anyone who would say that ME2 is indisputably better than the first game, I would ask what it was that they felt was lacking the first time around. I don't mean to broadly assume, but from those I've spoken to, it seems as though players who wanted a more combat-focused experience are loving what ME2 brings to the table. Players (like myself) who enjoyed the combat but were more interested in the story and characters seem to have some issues embracing it wholeheartedly. Your mileage may vary of course, but this seems to be a general trend I've observed.

Although I don't want to spoil my review before it's written, one issue I've really been wrestling with is the developers' decision to radically shift their design in order to bring total focus on the teammates Commander Shepard can recruit.

Being able to convince someone to join forces with you and get to know them over the course of an adventure is one of the hallmarks of BioWare's greatness, and it's certainly one of the things that made me a convert after my experience with Knights of the Old Republic. However, in every BioWare title previous to ME2, there has been a larger, overarching plot, usually involving saving the universe or something along those lines.

Characters are encountered over the course of a player's travels as they attempt to resolve this big issue, and by choosing to engage in conversation with them, their particular backstory and (sometimes) hidden quest is revealed—but, this type of content has always been what could be properly categorized as sidequests. They're there if the player wants them, but they are not the focus of play.

In ME2, BioWare has changed tactics and taken these hidden surprises a player had to work for, and instead put them front and center. Essentially, the main quests in the game are sidequests, and to be frank, I don't feel as though this tactic was successful—for a couple of reasons.

First, although there is an overarching plot, it's not able to be advanced until the player recruits a certain number of teammates, which basically forces them into a number of disconnected, random-feeling missions. Go here and meet this person. Go there and meet that one. The game explains it in the context of the plot, but this structure makes it nearly impossible to feel as though the game is moving forward. Rather than meeting someone on the way to accomplishing a goal, simply meeting them is the goal itself. There is little sense of drive. Having said that, I don't think that such a structure is inherently unworkable, but what puts the nail in the coffin for me is the sheer amount of characters to be recruited.

Mass Effect 2 Screenshot

At the moment, I have ten characters in my stable, with a slot for one more. With two characters on my team at the start of the game, this basically means that I've been through approximately eight core missions with the sole objective of recruiting someone. By way of comparison, I'd say that there have only been two missions which could be seen as advancing the main plot. The ratio here is way off.

Making the situation worse is the fact that the player can only be accompanied by two characters at a time. With this structure, there is little opportunity to develop significant bonds or any sense of in-game camaraderie with more than a few of them. There just isn't time to have most of the cast mean much, yet getting these characters to join and completing their individual quests is the bulk of the ME2 experience regardless of how much or how little screen time they get.

As I go through the game and complete these missions, I can't help but get the sense that each one would be improved and feel much more significant if there were just less of them. It's not very meaningful to me to accomplish Mission X for Character Y when I've only used them once or twice, and there's no real chance for dramatic build-up with the stop-start-stop rhythm the game has. There is no flow to progression; no feeling that things are building to a head. I've just been making frequent stops around the neighborhood, basically. Need a ride? Gotta drop something off? No problem.

Further complicating things and detracting from the experience overall is that with so much focus on one person or another's problems, there's little room for me to develop any feelings at all about the antagonists of the game—and every good game needs a recognizable and present enemy. What would Mario be without Bowser? What would Final Fantasy VII be without Sephiroth? In Mass Effect 1, Saren and the Geth filled this role quite satisfactorily, but this time around, there are so many people to meet and such a great number of errands to run that it's quite possible to forget that there's even a larger threat at all.

I may be in the minority with this view, but I think the BioWare Character Sidequest System™ worked better and was more meaningful when it actually consisted of sidequests. The player could participate in the larger adventure and feel as though significant events were happening, yet still had complete control over when (and if) they took the time to take a break from saving the galaxy to delve deeper into someone's problems. I'm not done with the game yet, but after the last 20 hours, I feel comfortable saying that this reverse-prioritization gives ME2 a very haphazard, aimless feeling, and a central plot that fails to materialize. For a game that's ostensibly about saving the universe, I can only see this as a bad thing.

…Of course, there's still time to pull things together and drive it home with a bang, but based on my time spent so far, I'd say that BioWare's going to have to pull off one hell of a trick to do it.

Brad Gallaway

Brad Gallaway

Brad Gallaway has been gaming since the days when arcades were everywhere and the Atari 2600 was cutting edge. So, like... A while.

Currently, he's got about 42 minutes a night to play because adulting is a timesuck, but despite that, he's a happily married guy with two kids who both have better K/D ratios than he does.

Brad still loves Transformers, he's on Marvel Puzzle Quest when nobody at the office is looking, and his favorite game of all time is the first Mass Effect -- and he thought the trilogy's ending was Just Fine, Thanks.

Follow Brad on Twitter at @BradGallaway
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27 Comments on "Too many cooks spoil the broth"

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Stefan
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Stefan
6 years 5 months ago

“As I go through the game and complete these missions, I can’t help but get the sense that each one would be improved and feel much more significant if there were just less of them.”

Imagine how much more fleshed out the characters would be if there were less of them.
Imagine if their situations and motivations tied into the main plot.
Imagine if Shepard was actually important…

Jaklar
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Jaklar
6 years 5 months ago

I’ve written an article titled The Many Failures of Mass Effect 2, an in-depth analysis of Bioware’s latest RPG that not only dissects the game but takes game critics to task for letting obvious flaws slide by without notice or comment. Surprisingly, the article is being met with a favorable response, as I think people find it a fair analysis and not a typical fanboy rant.

The Many Failures of Mass Effect 2

http://www.infoaddict.com/the-many-failures-of-mass-effect-2

Li-Ion
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Li-Ion
6 years 5 months ago

[quote=Estoc]You didn’t know who Jon Irenicus was? And you liked Mass Effect better than KOTOR? Well, that’s more than sacrilege, at this point. THIS IS MADNESS! [/quote]
Madness? THIS IS SPARTA! (scnr ;))

jclark
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jclark
6 years 5 months ago
I appreciated your comments about this game. Considering our mutual affinity for the first ME, I wanted to revisit your site to see your thoughts on ME2. I understand that this isn’t your “review” of the game per se, but it certainly has significant indications of your feelings on the game itself, and the overall quality of the product. I’d like to put aside the plot/story structure discussion for another time. That’s another avenue that could be parsed out for days on end, and is largely a matter of personal preference. I’ll go ahead and say that I generally disagree… Read more »
buddhagonad
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buddhagonad
6 years 5 months ago
[quote=Estoc](Truth be told, it deserves a 10 for the “I Remember Me” quest only.) [/quote] Absolutely. I didn’t come across that mission until my 2nd or 3rd playthrough and being simply a conversation mission, it was emotionally overwhelming. I haven’t seen something like that in ME2 yet. About 20 hours in as well and I’m still enjoying the game immensely though I find what is compelling to play now is the characters more so then the quest- Where the first one had the space opera tone, this one now has muscicians before the show atmosphere. There is no need to… Read more »
redshift87
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redshift87
6 years 5 months ago
Great article. You’ve done a good job articulating the persistent, nagging issue I’ve felt with this game. I loved the first game and having beat this one, can say I love it too, but… I recently did Jack’s sidequest and though I tried my damndest to get into it and care about the turmoil she was going through- I couldn’t. I hadn’t really spent any time with her on other missions (I was busy juggling all the other characters). I also think it speaks volumes that if you go onto the official forums, there’s still quite a few folks clamoring… Read more »
Estoc
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Estoc
6 years 5 months ago

Forgot to say: Jon Irenicus was great because he was a tragic villain. He was a complete monster, but you could understand his pain (as a pariah, as a rejected lover). Saren… who could feel for him, really? Well, again, just an opinion.

Sorry for the double post!

Estoc
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Estoc
6 years 5 months ago
[quote=Li-Ion] I didn’t remember who Jon Irenicus was until I googled the name, and I played every piece of Baldurs Gate I & II there is. Thus: I don’t think he was THAT awesome, while Saren at least left some impression on me. And in my opinion the reason why ME1 was a great game is not just because of some shooter mechanics or because some NPC, but because how it all fit together. Well, obviously not in your opinion but I found ME1 more enjoyable than KOTOR (sacrilege! ;)) and way way way better than last years Dragon Age.… Read more »
Li-Ion
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Li-Ion
6 years 5 months ago
[quote=Estoc]Yep, I have to agree here. Granted, Brad’s opinion is just that – an opinion. But it’s an inconsistent one. Mass Effect 1’s scenario was not-that-great; Saren was not a good villain (well, not when you think Bioware also created Jon Irenicus: everything’s relative), […][/quote] I didn’t remember who Jon Irenicus was until I googled the name, and I played every piece of Baldurs Gate I & II there is. Thus: I don’t think he was THAT awesome, while Saren at least left some impression on me. And in my opinion the reason why ME1 was a great game is… Read more »
TKF
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TKF
6 years 5 months ago
I’m not through the game yet either, but I think I’m enjoying ME2 and it’s story more so far because of what I’ve expected of it going in. No, I’m not going to use the “It’s only the middle part of trilogy” defense, because I think that’s bogus. I do think the story is structured to feel “complete” as story (even within the context of ME1 & ME3) but the story itself is not what most RPG lovers are accustomed to. From what I’ve seen of Bioware’s interviews and their marketing of the game, this always appeared to be a… Read more »
Brad Gallaway
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Brad Gallaway
6 years 5 months ago
Hey all. Just a few words to clarify a few things here: >Regarding Mass Effect 1 being rated ‘too high’ – No way. I made my case in that write-up and I still stand by it. If you don’t agree, that’s one thing, but I still feel as though the first ME was a genre-defining experience and that’s not going to change regardless of what comes after. That review and that score will not change. > In case anyone is confused, this is a BLOG POST of thoughts, and not an official review. Since I have not given a review… Read more »
Zelazny7
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Zelazny7
6 years 5 months ago

I may have confused the issue a bit with my word choice, Mr. Naik. I didn’t mean that opinions have to be based on an absolute standard, but that for opinions to mean anything there has to be some consistency from the person offering the opinion. In Brad’s case, I’d argue his positions are woefully inconsistent when it comes to reviewing ME1 and ME2.

Anonymous
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Anonymous
6 years 5 months ago
He’s not afraid of nothing because his voice is the truth unlike these other game critics who have their mouths so far up the developer’s dicks. Brad is a honest and hardcore game critic, he bashes all those mainstream games and praise good games that aren’t mainstream. He said Lost Planet for having a good story and Psychonauts had a bad story which is true. He praised Tork as being a finely tuned platformer but bashed Psychonauts for being a mediocre platformer which is true. He said Dead Space was a bland and boring game which is true. He said… Read more »
Estoc
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Estoc
6 years 5 months ago
[quote=Zelazny7]I’m only holding Brad up to the standards he sets for himself. My comment was borne of frustration over someone who is missing the forest for the trees when he was able to overlook so many flaws from the first game (and there were TONS) and yet give it a 10. I also understand that Brad is giving his opinion. I just don’t think opinions matter much when they’re not based on some consistent, underlying value system.[/quote] Yep, I have to agree here. Granted, Brad’s opinion is just that – an opinion. But it’s an inconsistent one. Mass Effect 1’s… Read more »
Richard Naik
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Richard Naik
6 years 5 months ago

[quote=Zelazny7]I just don’t think opinions matter much when they’re not based on some consistent, underlying value system.[/quote]

An opinion is by nature not based on a static value system-if it was it would be fact. I’m enjoying the game quite a bit more than Brad at the moment, but that’s based on my personal preference and expectations, just like he is basing his opinion on his. There is no “if the game does this its good” set of standards in existence, nor will there ever be.

Zelazny7
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Zelazny7
6 years 5 months ago

I’m only holding Brad up to the standards he sets for himself. My comment was borne of frustration over someone who is missing the forest for the trees when he was able to overlook so many flaws from the first game (and there were TONS) and yet give it a 10. I also understand that Brad is giving his opinion. I just don’t think opinions matter much when they’re not based on some consistent, underlying value system.

Matthew K
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6 years 5 months ago
[quote=Zelazny7]I know there’s an attraction to being the devil’s advocate and ‘going against the grain’, but in this instance you’re just wrong.[/quote] Says who? These are just OPINIONS. Like your comment; it represents an opinion, not an indisputable fact. If you disagree so vehemently, there’s no need for the “Brad, I’m never reading your writing again” preface. That’s just plain rude (not to mention unfounded). Just state your opinion and why you disagree. I’m sure Brad is writing this out of disappointment, not some vague attraction to “going against the grain.” Don’t you think he would have rather loved the… Read more »
Zelazny7
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Zelazny7
6 years 5 months ago
Brad, I can’t read your reviews anymore. You are the most inconsistent reviewer I’ve ever come across. ME2 is clearly a better game. I know there’s an attraction to being the devil’s advocate and ‘going against the grain’, but in this instance you’re just wrong. At least have the integrity to admit you rated ME1 too high. Personally, I think ME2 is as good as it gets and surpasses the first in every respect (yes, even story). At the very least your gripes regarding the sequel should even out with the universally viewed gripes of the first game resulting in… Read more »
Zolos
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Zolos
6 years 5 months ago
Things i disliked from the first ME. 1. Combat 2. Inventory system 3. Some classes were handicapped e.g. Engineers 4. Boring sidequests From what i read in your impressions the first one has indeed been improved. What class are you playing? Most people i know play as Soldiers where as i would really like to try another class. Finally with regards to the number of characters i would agree with you that having too many lessens any chances of connection with these characters. It must be a juggling system as well as you are probably trying to use most of… Read more »
deiseach
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6 years 5 months ago

Spooky, that’s exactly what I’ve been thinking. It’s a great game, but the logic that requires you to accumulate all these weirdos is strained, to say the least. Why do you need all of them to save the galaxy? What really bothers me is that I see this affecting replay value. In the original you could rattle through the half dozen core missions and try multiple outcomes with ease. If I’m going to have to do ten missions just to get to the half way point . . .

Tim Liggett
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Tim Liggett
6 years 5 months ago
While I can definitely see the opposing argument, I for one really like the more character-focused approach Bioware took with Mass Effect 2. One of the thing I was disappointed about in the first Mass Effect was the characters. They weren’t bad or anything, but they didn’t seem integral to the plot. Mass Effect was a great game, and I really liked its story, but I was hoping that Mass Effect 2 would focus on the characters more, and so far I’ve been more than satisfied. It helps that I find the characters in Mass Effect 2 more interesting than… Read more »
lun4tic
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lun4tic
6 years 5 months ago
You hit the nail on the head. Suddenly you’ve set the Collectors in your sights as the antagonistic force, but why do I feel like a collector too? Worse, after completing their personal missions they stopped talking to me! What the hell? The combat wasn’t any better. They added ammo, but they’re not calling it ammo. Again, what the hell? Most of my biotic and tech ability arc, even when I’ve aimed them squarely at an opponent, and they would dip into the ground or into an object somewhere else. Most of the time I curved them just to have… Read more »
Jacob H
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Jacob H
6 years 5 months ago
I started getting caught up in the hype early on for this game, then I began to think of all the disappointments I have bought over the years, so i literally convinced myself that this was going to be a terrible game. It isn’t. The combat is now as good as many other games I play, the levelling, streamlined so that it only really includes powers, which have now been much improved. Customisation is now pretty awesome, but hopefully they release another set of armour as in depth as the N7. The conversations are better, with the interrupts bringing in… Read more »
Sean Riley
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Sean Riley
6 years 5 months ago

Agreed, agreed, and agreed. Dammit, I predicted something like this the moment I heard that there would be 11 team-mates.

One thing not noted here is just how little conversation you have with any of them. You pretty much recruit ’em, get some perfunctory dialogue, leave ’em alone, and then get given a second quest for each one of them.

Six characters was perfect. One for each class. Go nuts from there.

Li-Ion
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Li-Ion
6 years 5 months ago
I didn’t play ME2 yet, but I had this feeling already in other Bioware RPG. In KOTOR I hardly spoke to some of the crew, in Dragon Age I couldn’t care less for half my ensemble. I don’t know but when I should save the world, some part of the galaxy or the galaxy as a whole I rarely do sidequests unless the objectives are literally on the way. But what I find the larger problem is the limitations to such a small party, while the rest is standing on the same spot in the camp or spaceship, waiting for… Read more »
Richard Naik
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Richard Naik
6 years 5 months ago

I didn’t think Saren was all that great of a antagonist. His motivations for doing what he was doing didn’t really make sense given the persona they established for him.

Anony Mouse
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Anony Mouse
6 years 5 months ago
Very well said Brad. I’m about 13 hours in and feeling the same way. There is just way too much “character-fetching” and not enough storyline. I think I’ve seen the collectors only once and even then it was like, “meh”. If the ME2 team wanted this game to be more character-driven, then they should have taken lessons from Squaresoft. Games like FINAL FANTASY 6 and CHRONO TRIGGER both featured unique teams that you had to build, yet you often met your next party member en-route to your final destination and there were plenty of times where you had to split… Read more »
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