More noise than signal

An Inexhaustive List Of Things That Infuriate Me In Mass Effect 2 Now That I’ve Thought About Them.

I enjoyed this game well enough when playing it, but given a few days distance to let it percolate through my mind, I find myself nearly apoplectic with incandescent fury, or at least slightly peeved. Here are a few of the reasons why. Much of this was prompted by a similar rant over at Arcadian Rhythms.

There was a tremendous amount of PR hay made at the outset of the series about your decisions in the first game effecting the rest of the trilogy, and you character having a consistency across all the games. Odd then, that the first thing you do on starting a new game is reset your character. Even if you decide to keep your original character appearance and character class, there’s no reason for your alignment (your paragon / renegade scores) to be reset.

I don’t mind, really, completely changing all of the combat mechanics. If you want to re-jigger the powers and weapons to make the hiding behind endless low walls and shooting over them a little better, knock yourselves out, although that’s always been the absolute least of the reasons I liked ME1. Just do it silently and we’ll all be polite and not draw attention to it. Don’t, however, then try and write a bafflingly stupid Codex entry trying to retcon these, because it’s insulting. Every gun in the entire universe was remodelled based on a Geth technology apparently uncovered in the first game, but never seen in the first game, in a mere two years? Do one.

While we’ve got our retconning shoes on, what in the hell is going on with Cerberus? The bulk of the interesting sidequests in ME1 were based around establishing Cerberus as an unalloyed, inexcusable evil. It’s at least one game too late to be making excuses for them, and forcing us to accept that they’re just a misunderstood gang of folks wanting to save mankind, jus’ like you, Shep!

Let’s run down what we learn from the first game. Cerberus killed an Alliance officer, tried to build an army of Thorian creepers and rachni, destroyed a settlement by turning the colonists into husks, and as I’m playing with the “Sole Survivor” background, was directly responsibly for the most traumatic event in my characters life (at least, prior to what unfurls during the events of the game), killing my entire squad through Thresher Maw proxy.

My Shephard would have put a bullet in the head of your erstwhile new buddies Miranda and Jacob, and probably also himself just to deny Cerberus the satisfaction. Not even being able to mention the Sole Survivor deal to any of the Cerberus apologists is a really glaring, frustrating plot hole, of the sort that really throws doubt on how much anything I do influences anything in the game that Bioware might deem narratively inconvenient.

This might seem like nit-picking, and it is. However the more you keep having to scratch these itches the more it pulls you out of the game, and reminds you that you’re sinking forty odd hours into pushing electrons around a screen rather than doing anything worthwhile with your life.

It hurts immersion, and that was what I found so spectacular about the first game. Not the combat mechanics, and to be honest not even the main narrative. It was the well detailed characterisation, and the feeling that there’s a massive, well thought out, cohesive galaxy to explore with all the attendant alien races and mysteries.

Mass Effect 2 is about crouching behind low walls and firing over the top of them. Occasionally alien low walls, to be sure, but it’s mainly interested in running between walls, crouching and firing over the top of them. Exploration is purely there to allow mining, and that is hardly a positive.

There were certainly things wrong with the planet exploration in the Mako of ME1. The solution was, apparently, to delete them entirely and replace them with an orbital mining ‘game’. I would have loved to have been present at the meeting where it was decided that the best way to increase the Mass Effect 2’s fun quotient would be to hold down a trigger while slowly moving a cursor around until the controller vibrates, then pulling another trigger. I would bring a hammer to this meeting.

All sense of scale has gone. The universe has shrunk in the wash. I understand that there’s constraints on these things, but look at what happened to the Citadel. Events at the end of ME1 notwithstanding, it still ought to be a massive galactic hub, complete with the unwieldy navigation and endless running between sectors of the first game. Now it’s, what, three shops, a few staircases and a bar?

Everywhere else is just as bad, with any exploration or poking around ‘streamlined’ and minimised in favour of getting you back out, hiding behind walls. There’s some rationale for it, I guess, but the capital of the Krogan homeworld really ought to consist of more than ten rhino-people standing around a fire in an old oil drum, like some intergalactic hobo convention.

Characterisation has broken completely in Mass Effect 2. The Shephard I controlled in the first game would not be working with Cerberus, but there’s no choice about that – which requires some breathtaking, unbelievable head-sand interfacing from the Intergalactic Parliament, or whatever they’re called, and a complete abdication of the only responsibility the Earth Fleet Dudes, or whatever they’re called, have.

Sheppy aside, what in the hell was the point of convincing Garrus to go back to C-Sec if it’s discarded in one line of dialogue? How does the first game’s socially awkward blue archaeologist turn into the galaxy’s number 2 intelligence agent in two years? Why would I want to buy that story separately?

I’m pretty sure all of this talk of decisions from the first game effecting the second is based entirely around the bit characters from side missions who can be spoken to, and I have to pretend to remember what petty dispute of theirs I solved a couple of years ago, which make no impact on me at all.

At points I was running low on credits to purchase the upgrades littered around, so figured I would sell off some of my mineral reserves, surely impractical to hold on a small starship. Except, of course, you can’t, because there is no functioning economy in Mass Effect 2 to allow selling of the most valuable commodities in the universe. Hmmph

Okay, the more I think about this game the less I like it, so I’m now going to stop thinking about it and crack open the Deus Ex: Human Revolution disk Lovefilm have sent me.