Mass Effect 2 isn’t a particularly bad game; but it certainly isn’t a perfect one, either. After the almighty critical success of the first, people expected a follow-up that was practically perfect in every way. That’s what they got… or so they like to believe.
When you ask someone if they like Mass Effect 2, you’ll get one of two responses: that they love it unconditionally1, or that they liked it but it wasn’t amazing2. Seldom do you find someone who outright hates it, which is rare for a popular series.
1 “Mass Effect 2 might be one of my all-time favourite games. When Mass Effect 2 launched I was struck by the amount of hype for it among my industry friends, and after being convinced by them that I just had to play it, I ran out and bought both Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2. Within a few hours of Mass Effect I was utterly hooked; it had been so long since a game had taken hold like this, and it only got worse when I started on Mass Effect 2.
At the time I was still a midwife and living next door to the hospital, on my sleep break during my night shifts I used to run back to my room as quickly as I could so I could get a brief 45 minutes of playtime instead of sleeping. It was a most beautiful love affair. ” – Hollie Bennett, Namco Bandai UK’s Community Manager. @HollieB on Twitter.
2 “Mass Effect 2 is a game I had a love/hate relationship with. My experience was a little different than most. I waited to play both Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2 till the end of 2010. I loved ME2 because of the continuation of the story, the new graphics engine and the depth of the choices you make keep the game world changing. As soon as I finished the first play of the game, I almost automatically started a second play though with the intentions of seeing how I could change the things I had done previously. It’s truly one of the most emotionally gripping games I’ve had the pleasure to play. You find that you care about the characters and the things they do almost as if you have some sort of connection to them as you would a person in real life.
With all that being said, it isn’t without its major flaws. The amount of times I would go for cover and die due to poor mechanics and combat was limitless. The jagged character animations are awful. This on top of a lacklustre ending and thin main plot really did not deliver. These are big problems for a game connecting you to its characters and the world. It isn’t the most perfect game, but needless to say I’m a fan and will probably play through again before I touch ME3.” – Eric Baumgardner, founder of ‘jggh Games’. @junegore on Twitter.
Ask those same two people if they think that the second game is overrated, and each will man their corner like champion boxers, justifying1 or debating2 its critical success.
1 “No, I really don’t think it is. The game proves itself on so many levels and what some may call ‘hype’ I believe is backed up by solid experiences and emotions. It manages to provide fans with so much; a team of amazing characters, a wonderfully deep and well written universe in which you live and explore, wonderful graphics, solid gameplay, a wealth of extra content, strong emotional responses, and has managed to get gamers and industry types alike whipped up into a frenzy whenever anyone talks about it. It’s a game that demands your time, your dedication and your emotions which you are all too happy to give it and even when you turn that console off, your imagination is still left racing at 1000MPH. It’s a game that deserves every single accolade it receives.” – Hollie Bennett, Namco Bandai UK’s Community Manager. @HollieB on Twitter.
2 “Almost more than any other game on the market. As great as it is, the highlights of the game happen in the story and after that it tapers into your typical third person action title with really rough game mechanics. If you look at the franchise, the first game was brilliant. It had the perfect mixture of RPG and third person action that made the magic. When ME2 launched it was a stripped down action title. No one likes to admit this because at some point in gaming history the Mass Effect franchise became one of those “can’t do wrong” things. When I hear people discuss the game’s “hype” I get a little bothered by the idea that such a simple but compelling game can be looked at with such excitement.
Yes, I am a fan of the game and franchise, but I’m also not too blind to see that the game lacks in about every way excluding a solid story and great characters. The game would absolutely live up to the hype if it was titled something completely other than ‘Mass Effect’. The first game was so good that you expect a certain quality, a quality that ME2 is just missing. Without the RPG elements that you became accustomed to in the first game, it’s Gears of War with a poor mechanics.” – Eric Baumgardner, founder of ‘jggh Games’. @junegore on Twitter.
Although many fans bring up perfectly valid and justifiable merits, they fail to mention any of the game’s flaws. As a so-so person, it’s easier to note these problems without regretting spotting them, and the main issue us so-so people have with Mass Effect 2 is that, in terms of RPG elements, it’s a significant step down from the first. Less customisation or the removal of an inventory may not seem like wholly negative design choices, but for an RPG that aims to better the calibre of its first iteration, they really are. The result of these seemingly minor changes is over simplification.
Mass Effect’s original inventory system has long been in debate. Some called it confusing, awkward, or pointless; others said needed, detailed, and better. I agree with the latter. Whilst it was not the most ergonomic of inventory systems, and it could get confusing and overwhelming, it brought organisation and thorough customisation to the game – a fundamental genre-defining feature in any modern RPG.
In the first game, its inventory allowed free storage of weapons, armour, collectibles, and mods, which were interchangeable as Shepard fought through hordes of Geth. Mass Effect 2 removed the inventory and looting system completely, drastically reducing customisation possibilities and even choice. In 2, there are no collectibles, very few armour types, an unconventional mod system, and extremely infrequent weapons; none of which can be changed during play. Customising your Shepard’s loadout means visiting a weapons locker, which, as they are few and far between during missions, restricts you to the stationary one in the Normandy hub. Whilst it is inconvenient, it isn’t too problematic, and a handful of missions can be completed using the same two weapons without notice. The major problem with this system is weapon infrequency.
In Mass Effect, weapons were a common find, and each flaunted varying statistics as well as company branding, that allow for weapons with something of a personality. You’d find so many that – although they weren’t all vastly different – you could test out three, maybe four different guns during a mission. As you discover increasingly powerful weapons, you consistently change favourites. However, in Mass Effect 2, weapons became a rare encounter; scattered thinly, and often buried in areas where most players have a good chance of completely missing them. Variation in these weapons is quite broad, actually, and many of the newfounds are very different in both function and design. Their stats are increased enough to render the previous weapon obsolete, and make the new one the go-to Collector-buster. This is a poor design choice, and basically maps out the player’s equipment at each point in the game, which means missing any of the illusive weapons lessens the combat experience. For a game that prides itself on being open and unique, this isn’t exactly ideal.
Linearity is an almost perfect marriage to simplicity. After the blissfully open world of Mass Effect, 2 was expected to expand upon it, adding more sprawling planets to freely explore, and more missions set in the wide open areas. Instead, expansion quickly turned to contraction, and the epic planes of the first game transformed into long, long corridors, guiding Shepard through each mission with minimal opportunity for exploration.
Aside from the hub worlds – including Omega – corridors are the main body of Mass Effect 2. Initiating a mission initiates a monotonous hike, broken up by segments of enjoyably solid combat. In theory, Mass Effect 2 could have been an on-the-rails shooter with the best story of its genre, but instead it’s an RPG that acts more like a third-person-shooter. A brilliant third-person-shooter, may I add. The game’s combat interaction is, with the exception of the aforementioned detriments, pretty damn impressive. The seamless integration of intuitive character powers alongside standard weapons allows for fast paced, consistently exhilarating standoffs. It’s easily one of the most polished combat systems in recent third-person-shooters, and offers many unique features that others simply don’t.
What keep the corridors of Mass Effect 2 alive aren’t ornate paintings, but a determination to uncover more of their stories. The game’s most charming elements are its incredibly detailed story, memorable characters, and broad, beautiful universe created over the two games. It’s a world that enraptures any and every player, and one that will be hailed as one of video gaming’s greatest creations for years to come. The core story isn’t 2’s strength, and while it has a strong opening and a remarkable conclusion, the main segment is particularly poor. It presents itself as one huge fetch quest, finding a team of individuals to aid Shepard in his / her final suicide mission. It’s falsely spread with a grimly boring façade, but once you make it past the initial feeling of: ‘Damn, this is going to be monotonous’ and actually drop yourself into the missions, its deceiving layer is torn away.
The diversity of the ‘acquire companion X’ missions is vast, and each provides a deep, involving, and generally amazing experience. The depth in these missions is astounding, and the story told through them is impressively involving, and rich. You get the opportunity to follow a character in their journey, watching complex personalities unveil themselves for the game to come; thus creating a world overflowing with some of the most memorable personalities of recent releases and further reinforcing the already robust Mass Effect universe.
Individual loyalty missions only expand on this, and the sheer quality remains consistent. You become involved in your team’s personal journeys, sharing in their triumphs and tragedies. A character becomes more than just an Asari, or a Drell, they become almost human with their complexity. Narratively, it effortlessly excels. Despite the weaknesses of its storytelling foundations, once you begin to unearth these gems, it becomes a stellar visual novella. Although it falls below the grandeur of the first, it trounces the writing of other games; and trounces them with grace.
With problems and poor design choices aplenty, the written quality of Mass Effect 2 cannot prop up the entire game alone. In my, and many others’ opinion, the original Mass Effect was the superior game in near every aspect. Yes, like any game it had its flaws, but those flaws weren’t ones addressed or amended in 2, and the second game made more removals than additions. Mass Effect was an actual RPG – inventory, looting, and all – rather than the disguised third-person-shooter of its weaker sequel. Roaming uncharted planets was a key feature: true exploration of planets, not the pointless scanning of them, and not a regulated romp through a collection of spruced up corridors.
It seems to me Mass Effect 2 was showered with praise due to how people have fallen head-over-heels for its inventions. Critics and players were anticipating something spectacular from the second game, and after all the build-up and hype, it’s a struggle to notice that BioWare might have made a few bad decisions. Opinions have been based on the universe of Mass Effect and not the second game alone. That should never have happened. It’s accepted more as a visual book than a videogame, with mechanics, systems, and over-simplicity being overlooked by the perfection proclaimers. Because of the assumption that a Mass Effect game is automatically phenomenal, Mass Effect 2 is rather overrated. While the amount of ‘Game of the Year’ awards earned for 2010 were well deserved, people need to bring themselves to question its quality, and realise that it is not the perfect game.
Honourable mentions: Grand Theft Auto IV, Assassin’s Creed, Dark Souls, Minecraft, Red Dead Redemption, Final Fantasy.