By dvaeg 17 Comments
Yesterday I completed Mass Effect 2. With a finished game save clocking in at around 29 hours, this is probably the most time I've put into a game that doesn't haveWarcraft in the title in some time. Getting to that point wasn't easy though. I started the game on the 360, which is where I completed Mass Effect a couple years back. I was able to import my save and make it to Omega. I had just finished recruiting Garrus when I hit a big snag in my playtime, leaving the game untouched for almost two months. When I returned to it, I couldn't remember the setup -- where I was or why I was there. It was time to start over from scratch if I wanted to play in earnest, and there was no guarantee the downtime wouldn't happen again. Deciding to do the right thing, I sent the game back (through Goozex) and moved on.
Fast forward to May of this year and I'm ready to start the game again, but this time on Windows. Of course Bioware didn't have the forethought to make a demo available, so I was unable to determine if my laptop could handle it. I...acquired a copy to give it a test run and was pleased with the results, so I deleted it, grabbed a copy on Steam and picked up the Kasumi, Overlord and Shadow Broker DLC. Of course I had to start fresh (since my save for ME1 was on the 360), but I bulldozed my way through the game and all the content and came out on the other side wanting more.
The Game Now that it's all behind me, I have to say that this is my favorite Bioware game, surpassing everything they've done so far. With compelling characters, streamlined and highly enjoyable gameplay, and a setting that is second to none. JRR Tolkien was famous for his dissertation on world-building, especially as it related to man's need to create. Taken from the point of view of religion, world building can almost be seen as method of worship: the secondary creation of worlds through imagination as an attempt to become more like God, the original world builder. I bring this up because Mass Effect 2 weaves its world building through the narrative a levels both high and low, both global and local, and it achieves something greater than just an addition of a made-up language, it does what sci-fi does best: it holds a mirror to current events and experiences and asks you to re-examine them from a different viewpoint. The conflicts and motivations behind your actions are real and substantive, and the history and background Bioware built serves not just for wow factor, but to build the foundation that makes these motivations viable.
Spoilers ahead, but the pinnacle of the experience comes to light in Shepard's decision regarding the Collector Base. Does he take an advantage of the Illusive Man's offer to use the technology on the base to better humanity, or does doing so abandon the humanity that gave rise to the quest in the first place? Parallels can be seen in the Salarian/ Krogan genophage side story and to numerous smaller decisions made throughout. Did you destroy the Grey Box? Did you let Garrus kill in cold blood? Did you agree with Mordin's choice in handling his student? How about Zaeed and his vendetta? Each smaller morality play is reinforced by and amplified by the greater threat. Mass Effect 2 gives the player a literal interpretation of the subtext -- your enemy's weapons are literally the product of human sacrifice. A liquefied Yeoman Chambers would have a word with you if you don't recognize the connection.
Parallels to current events are also found in the human/alien subtext. Cerberus is certainly a jingoistic NGO, but there's an undeniable truth behind their motives. A failing bureaucracy gives the player either the excuse they need to go gallivanting around the galaxy or reason to pause and reflect on their role. Is the sanction of a recognized governmental authority a necessary part of the player's moral code? Did you question Cerberus' motives throughout or are you generally accepting of a sovereign entity making decisions a government will not?
The FutureIf nothing else, I wanted more when I was done. The Shadow Broker DLC was a fantastic icing on the cake, and I was left with a desire to do more, experience more, and shoot more things. Rumors of additional DLC are out there, and I believe we'll see more on the download-able side of things. Bioware was quick to label the most recent Dragon Age DLC as the FINAL one, a moniker that Shadow Broker did not share. I am remiss however that there seems to be no word on the next chapter. Dragon Age 2 is set for release in a few short months, and that game also featured a full expansion pack to boot. Considering that Mass Effect is now Bioware's preeminent franchise, I'm baffled as to why we aren't hearing more. Perhaps it has to do with the forthcoming PS3 release, but time will tell.
Most importantly however, Mass Effect 2 made me realize Bioware's biggest and most fatal mistake: The Old Republic. Tied to a well established IP that is controlled by another entity, The Old Republic is a missed opportunity to use the Mass Effect universe for the greater good of science fiction fans. It doesn't take a legal scholar to guess that there's a pretty big non-compete clause in Bioware's contract with Lucas, and that would effectively kill any machinations for a Mass Effect MMO -- the first real shot that fans would have a science fiction MMO. Star Wars is Science Fantasy people, and although the line is thin and sometimes blurry, Science Fantasy is only a half-step away from WoW.