Tuesday, February 28, 2012

This Is Not a Review of Mass Effect 2

I have come to the realization that I can never post a true review of Mass Effect 2 because, frankly, it's just too epic and too good. That said, it's two weeks until Mass Effect 3, so I wanted to share some thoughts about Mass Effect before my anticipation core approaches critical.
Pose like a team because sh** just got real

I first bought the original Mass Effect after seeing a friend of mine playing it, and I am forever indebted to that friend. I remember he showed me the level up screen for the three members of his team: there was a human, a girl with a bucket on her head, and then suddenly the whole screen was taken up by a huge battle-scarred turtle alien. I remember how my mind was blown at the thought that this unstoppable behemoth could be a member of my squad. Normally a video game would save such badasses for stage bosses, but in Mass Effect, he's your chum.

You'd better believe I'm bros with a two-ton turtle warlord
As it turns out, Urdnot Wrex was only available as a squad member in the first Mass Effect game, but the sequel made up for that with several unforgettable new squad members. What really impressed me about the game was that the members of your squad really aren't just cool-looking assortments of guns and powers. They all have a backstory and, more importantly, a unique perspective. Too many video games have characters who come from various backgrounds, but who all act like some minor varient of grim badass. In Mass Effect 2, you can always tell who is talking not just based on their voice, but also their tone and what they're saying.
Who you callin' a chump?
The thing Mass Effect does better than any other video game is making you feel like you're part of a living universe. The player may not know a turian from a quarian, but Commander Shepard lives in the Mass Effect world, and the player controls Commander Shepard. Mass Effect's conversation system allows you to make decisions on what Shepard should do next based on how you want to approach a situation, not based on a knowledge of the game that you might not have. When you decide what to say, Shepard fills in the in-universe knowledge. I first experienced this in the first Mass Effect game, when an NPC mentions the Protheans. I had no idea who the Protheans were, so I chose the "Protheans?" dialog option. Rather than saying "Derp, I'm not from around here, what's a Prothean?", Shepard said, "Protheans? Aren't they the race who built the Citadel and the Mass Relays?" There was an even cooler moment in the second game when a reporter confronted my paragon Shepard about the ships that were lost in the Battle of the Citadel, and Shepard listed each ship that fell in battle and said that their sacrifice would not be forgotten and would not be in vain. I had no way of knowing the names of those ships, since they have never been mentioned before, but I knew I wanted to approach the situation in a righteous Paragon way, and Shepard filled in the rest.
I haven't decided yet if killing you is worth my time
Mass Effect 2 takes everything that Mass Effect did well and improves it. Gone are the interchangeable side quests where you land on a planet, drive around until you find the enemy base, clear the familiar-looking base of bad guys, and get a dialog message saying what happened when you won. Instead, most of the missions you go on are character-driven as you either recruit squad members or complete a mission they need your help with. This adds the all-important element of storytelling: we learn more about the squad members on Shepard's team, and more about Shepard's relationship with those squad members, by seeing where they are when Shepard recruits them, and what they need Shepard to do. Perhaps this is why a lot of the characters who return from the first game feel more fully-formed in Mass Effect 2. Garrus and Tali felt cool in the first game, but I didn't feel like I really knew them until I saw what they were up to in my absence.
First I'll save my crew, and then I'll make the Reapers wish they had someone to save them from me
Though the game has been out for years and the third one is about to come out, I am still hesitant to post major spoilers for Mass Effect 2. Then again, pretty much anyone reading this blog has already finished the game at least once, so I want to give mention of the jaw-dropping moment in the game where the carpet gets pulled out from under you. A well-known gimmick to make a video game more exciting is to take an area that the player had thought of as a safe zone and invade it. Another gimmick is to temporarily give the player control of a different character. Mass Effect 2 combines these gimmicks in an absolutely brilliant way, producing one of the finest moments in video gaming.


  1. I still haven't played these games yet, so I appreciate you not posting spoilers. I really need to get these games. Skyrim was disappointing because it felt shallow; I think the ME games will fit my RPG needs.

    Also, since today is apparently blogger appreciation day, I just want to say I enjoy this site.

  2. Thank you, sir! I had no idea it was blogger appreciation day.

  3. Samara doesn't get enough praise for being an amazing character. She is a completely badass and yet tragic and dare I say human character, and I felt more interest in her than any other character, not because of her scandalous outfit, but because she was the closest to the way I see my Shep: kind and compassionate deep down, but driven by the unshakeable compulsion to do a duty no matter what the cost. They both carry a heavy burden, and especially after Shep helped Samara (spoiler spoiler), I felt that they grew close together. Samara did nix my romance attempts, but there is more to a relationship than physical love.

    She's miles cooler than Liara, whom they tried to unconvincingly butch up in the second game, to lead to some pretty eye rolling moments.

  4. Trust me, Samara got nothing but praise while my lady and I were playing. Anastasia Shepard's standard away team was Garrus and Samara. I really liked the dynamic of mixing a vigilante with a paladin.