Video Game Thoughts: Mass Effect 2

Mass Effect 2 was a 2010 role-playing game by Bioware that I played on the PC. Mass Effect 2 was amazing in some ways but weak in others. The original game, Mass Effect, wasn’t a perfect game but had a lot of potential. Naturally, I expected Bioware to polish up all game mechanics in the original for the sequel. These are games, not movies, so players always expect a sequel to improve the gameplay. Mass Effect 2 did do this in one area: combat. The combat system was superb compared to the original. The six classes returned with several new skills. Skills couldn’t be leveled up as much, but each new point in a skill greatly improved its power. Enemies now had a combination of health, shields, barriers, and armor. Each of these defenses had their own unique qualities with different skills being optimal depending on the type.

The story in this game was also great. It was a little too dark for my tastes but totally engrossing. I really got swept up by the story. Every day I eagerly awaited the free time to play and continue the story. They added a new option called “interrupts” giving players the chance to sometimes perform an action even in a cinematic. Before, cinematic scenes were mostly passive. The player had a dialogue choice to make every few lines, but there was no action there. Now, they could more directly influence the outcome of the cinematics.

Unfortunately, Bioware didn’t improve everything. They decided early on that the best part of Mass Effect was the story, but because it was a video game they had to have something interactive. They chose the easiest option. That was combat. Video games have involved combat pretty much from the beginning. Collectively, game designers have spent thousands of hours designing combat systems. Bioware threw out most of the game systems in the original game that didn’t fit into either story or combat. To me focusing on combat and discarding the other game systems was the easy way out. Bioware could have spent the time to make the planet exploration more interesting or polish the item system. Instead, they pretty much got rid of those systems entirely.

Exploration in Mass Effect 2 amounted to planet scanning for resources that could be used for various ship and squad upgrades. The occasional planet did have an on-foot mission, but they were always extremely short. The only good ones were part of the main quest. This was in line with Bioware’s Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic sci-fi role-playing game. The problem was Mass Effect gave me a taste of the potential for an even better game. Instead, in Mass Effect 2 we got a modern version of Knights of the Old Republic. The planets the player could go to had no real exploration. In the exploration area, Mass Effect 2 seemed like a step back to more primitive times.

The item system was also very weak. Mass Effect had tons and tons of items. They weren’t balanced very well, but they were there. It would have just taken someone giving all of them some unique effect to make them interesting. In Mass Effect 2, they did give all the items unique effects, but there was pretty much no looting. The only real places to get new items were from stores on certain major planets. Part of the fun of killing baddies in a role-playing game is getting new items. The occasional item could be found this way in Mass Effect 2, but it was super rare.

Despite these two major flaws, Mass Effect 2 was still a good game. The first time through I had a lot more fun than my first time playing Mass Effect, but it seemed to lack the staying power that the original had. I had so much fun trying new classes in Mass Effect and making different story decisions. In Mass Effect 2, Bioware simplified it to just two sides to every conversation: good responses or bad responses. That basically meant the game was only fun for two playthroughs. After that, there was no more story to be extracted from the game. The combat system was still good. I tried playing more classes, but I just couldn’t get past repeating the same story over and over. Mass Effect, by having less of a focus on story, kept it interesting even on several characters. Mass Effect 2 was best enjoyed by new players, not veterans of the first game.

Because I am Catholic I must comment on the offensive content in this game. This game went overboard on the sexual things. There were many female characters with revealing clothing. Several camera angles were specifically chosen by the developers to focus on female anatomy (“Male Gaze”). Sex scenes were available through a simple romance system. There was no nudity this time, but the characters still went through all the motions of the act. Bad language was present in the first game, but it was everywhere in the sequel. Basically, this was not a game I could play in front of parents or children, but I think all Catholics should be cautious. These bad things can become ingrained in the mind. We can unintentionally commit sins due to the habit of seeing them repeatedly in entertainment like Mass Effect 2.

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