Note: This blog contains Mass Effect 2 spoilers, along with spoilers from the first two Mass Effect novels, Revelation and Ascension.
So last time I blogged was almost 4 weeks ago. I’d finally played Mass Effect to completion a mere 4 years after first playing it. The next day I went into my local city centre in an attempt to buy a copy of Mass Effect 2 and a copy of the first Mass Effect book, Revelation. The latter was easy, I just walked into a book store, two minutes later I walked out with a copy of the book. The former wasn’t so simple - not one shop in my town had a copy of Mass Effect 2 for PC. Game stores should be more like book stores. I went online and ordered a copy from Zavvi for the low price of £8.50. It was the cheapest on the net. I now know why they’re so cheap - they take forever to send you the product. Their page boasted a dispatch within three days - it was over a week in reality, and then it took nearly another week to arrive.
But I digress, the purpose of this blog isn’t to rant about the poor service from an online retailer, it’s to talk about Mass Effect. During the excruciatingly long wait for the second game to arrive, I set about reading Mass Effect Revelation. Mass Effect Revelation was really enjoyable. It lays down some really cool backstory to the universe. It gets a little predictable towards the end. Being a prequel to the game made that kind of inevitable. It just became so obvious that the artefact that mysteriously changed the behaviour of the two characters who had seen it was obviously Sovereign, and at the end Saren was going to encounter it and begin his indoctrination and the slow journey to Mass Effect 1. Still, it was a fun, enjoyable read.
So moving onto Mass Effect Ascension - I loved this book. It’s obviously not a masterpiece of literature or anything like that, but then I wasn’t expecting it to be. But for the sheer enjoyment I got from reading that book, it really was fantastic. It creates characters that I genuinely cared about. I was pissed when I discovered one of the characters was actually an undercover cerberus agent. I loved seeing the character development of Gillian, the autistic biotic girl. And the events were thrilling and entertaining. I went into these novels expecting middling novels that expanded on the universe's fiction. And while there is almost certainly no appeal to people not already invested in the Mass Effect universe, to me personally they, Ascension in particular, are great books.
Anyways, that’s the books out of the way. Now onto the important part - Mass Effect 2. I’ll be honest, my initial reactions to the game were relatively negative. Some of the changes from the original Mass Effect didn’t gel with me. The first thing was ammo. I loved that Mass Effect didn’t have ammo. Sure, the overheating mechanic wasn’t the best either, but I’m sure there are more unique ways of fixing that than just bunging ammo into the game. For all of the shortcomings of the combat in the first game, I was never forced into using a shitty submachine gun because I was conserving the ammo of my awesome heavy pistol in case there was a tough enemy round the next corner. And the reason for the change in the fiction doesn’t really fit either. I mean, if they’re heat clips for getting rid of heat, why can’t I just wait for it to cool down like I used to when I’m out of heat clips? It all sort of feels like a half assed reason to explain a gameplay mechanic that doesn’t fit within the fiction, and I don’t like it.
Anyways, the first thing I did upon gaining access to my shiny new Normandy was to rush off to the Citadel, which brings me onto my second negative initial impression. I loved exploring the Citadel in Mass Effect. It was a wonderful hub area filled with the weird and wonderful alien life. From the pristine presidium to the the seedy depths of the wards, it was wonderful. And what do I find there in Mass Effect 2? One new area in the wards with a couple of short and simple side quests, and Ambassador Anderson up in the presidium. It was totally disappointing. I could spend hours and hours in the Citadel in Mass Effect 1, I was lucky if there was more half an hour of entertainment there in Mass Effect 2. It was extremely disappointing. I felt like the game had been scaled down. Like it was no longer as much of an epic open world RPG.
Of course, this initial impression was largely wrong. I’d have still loved a bigger area of the Citadel to explore with more interesting things to do, but upon further exploration of the galaxy, there were plenty more hub worlds with plenty of things to do. Omega, Illium and even Tuchanka were like mini hub worlds themselves, each were a unique environment that was interesting to explore. None individually rivaled the size of the Citadel in ME1, but together they provided a similar experience with more environmental diversity.
And despite my gripes with the ammo system, the combat is greatly improved too. It’s a really intuitive cover-based shooter. The shooting is solid, and the powers and squad commands add a layer of strategy and depth, yet remains extremely simple. At one point early on I ordered Miranda to take a high vantage point where she essentially laid down covering fire, which allowed me and Jacob to easily take out the enemies from below. I felt like a tactical genius, yet it was super easy to do. Of course it would have been almost as easy to just have everyone charge in, take cover and shoot some dudes, but that’s not as fun. There were always opportunities for a well placed power or squad command to make the combat a little more interesting. It was a million times better than Mass Effect. It never felt frustratingly hard or stupidly easy. It was just right.
And of course, the story is still brilliant. I love the darker and more morally ambiguous storyline revolving around Cerberus and the Illusive Man. I’ve tried to play both games so far with a Chaotic Good alignment. My Shepard ultimately has the good of the universe at heart, but she doesn’t always play by the rules to achieve that goal. Good with a renegade streak. In the first game there were few opportunities for renegade dialogue when playing with these intentions, but ME2 gave many more chances to be renegade. I still had a maxed out Paragon bar by the end, but my Renegade bar was roughly 2/5 full, which seems like a nice balance to me. And lots of the renegade options are awesome. Telling the Illusive Man to go fuck himself at the end was awesome.
Particular highlights from the storyline are parts where the game goes more in-depth with its exploration of the alien cultures. For example, I loved the Quarian missions. The Haestrom mission and Tali’s loyalty mission aboard the Migrant Fleet were both extremely interesting. Mass Effect told us a lot about Quarians, but encounters with them were largely non-existent apart from Tali. Meeting them and exploring their culture was really cool.
The one storyline thing that did somewhat disappoint me was my outcome to the Suicide mission. This may seem weird to some of you - but I’m genuinely a little miffed that my entire crew survived the final siege on the collector base. I knew going into it that people were probably going to die. I knew I was going to have to make decisions and some people might not make it. I was ready to live with the consequences of my actions. Making choices and sticking by them is an integral part of the Mass Effect experience to me. Even if one of my favourite characters died, I wasn’t going to load a save. And I was expecting to lose someone. Going into it I was hoping I wouldn’t lose anyone. I was hoping I’d make perfect choices and everyone would live. But with hindsight, I feel like I’ve missed out on a key part of the game - Losing one or more of the characters you’ve got to know and grown to care about. It doesn't feel like the true Mass Effect 2 experience. Either way, I'm going to stick by my outcome.
I also went on to buy and play the Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC. It cost me nearly as much as the entire game did and it was too short to be worth that money, but it was an action packed and fun mission. Plus it gave Shepard an opportunity to get back together with Liara who was my romance option in ME1. I didn’t pursue a Romance in the main game since I my Shepard wouldn't cheat on Liara, so it was nice having that at some point in the story.
So yeah, despite some initial gripes I grew to love Mass Effect 2 even more than I did the first. I’ve ordered the third Mass Effect novel, Retribution, from Amazon so I’ll read that next. I’ll probably have to wait for Mass Effect 3 to drop in price a bit before I get that, but I might be able to squeeze it into my budget somehow. I’ll try, anyway. I really want to continue the adventures of Commander Shepard as soon as possible.