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General Commentaries

After saving the galaxy, again: a postscript on Mass Effect 2

First, let me make it clear to the reader: this is not a review of Bioware’s Mass Effect 2. By this time, and so close to the release of Mass Effect 3, there would be a tonload of writeups by more professional writers, and not so professional ones, about this game. No: what you will read are the thoughts of an avid, longtime roleplaying gamer after he finished the game Mass Effect 2.

And, yes, this is my opinion on the game. It is not a review, yes, but the thoughts contained therein are my thoughts. I will never claim them as gospel truth nor insist that I have a better view of this game than yours. If you are a hater of this game, go the eff somewhere else because I have no time for your negativity.

Also, SPOILER WARNINGS.

Now, with that out of the way…

I actually didn’t expect to finish ME2 this evening. To my mind I still had quite a few loose threads to deal with and maybe farm a little. I’d finished all the full loyalty missions for all crewmembers, including Legion’s. I guess I was wondering if there were still upgrades to the Normandy available out there, and I know I hadn’t bought a couple of mods for lack of money. Did I miss a few star systems? Where have I NOT gone to yet? EDI was telling me it would take some time for the Normandy to get used to its Reaper IFF, so don’t I mind taking the shuttle instead for my next destination? Even Joker chimed in. So, with no real idea of where I wanted to go to after finishing Legion’s loyalty mission, I clicked on the Star Map.

The next thing I knew, I was looking at an FMV with my “away team” members boarding the shuttle. I thought, oh wow, Bioware DOES think about everything. Apparently, it was nothing more than a way to move me along, and, well… let’s say what happened next totally outraged me.

The effing Collectors boarded my ship. And they took my crew.

I was, like… what. The. Hell…?

I suppose that changed a lot of things. After some minor hopping around, I decided it was time to hop into the Omega-4 Relay and pay the Collectors a long overdue visit. Besides, I think I was looking for leads, if maybe there’s a quest that’s been activated where I can rescue my crew before I have to go and kick the Collectors anthill over. Seeing none, and still feeling very, very outraged, I went to the Omega system, pointed the Normandy to the relay and hit the button.

I kept telling myself: this is different, you fraggers. You boarded my ship. You took my crew. This isn’t just about saving the galaxy anymore. This is effing personal.

I know, I know: I’m a writer. And a gamer, whose preference is roleplaying games. Yes, I knew, without looking at any guide or even a You Tube video that the Collectors hitting the Normandy would be high on the plot point list. I shouldn’t have been surprised and I have to admit that part of me wasn’t.

But I was still outraged.

They attacked my ship. They savaged my crew and took them like the spoils from a pirate raid.

Oh, yes, this was ON.

Suffice to say that despite the relative brevity of the final chapter of ME2, that was some of the most exciting moments I’ve ever had in the game. For most of the game, all the consequences were just the moral / plot point ones that could come to haunt you in ME3; God knows I’ve encountered several of the results of my decisions in ME1 throughout the game and I still think I should have let Garrus give Hardin one on the knee. But this time, it felt… different. These men and women and that one collective of AIs will live or die by the decisions I make. If I make the wrong ones, or do badly, some of them might not be around for ME3.

I think that’s why I let Legion go to that first mission rather than Tali; I screw up, at least the cost won’t be one of my longtime comrades. Besides, with an assault rifle and that big anti-tank Geth sniper rifle, I’m sure Legion could handle most anything they send against him, solo. I think it was why I chose the members of my team the way I did. Imagine, not picking Grunt for my team. My best and strongest hitter. I intentionally handicapped my offensive abilities (although a Vanguard Shep, played well, is quite the one-man army already). True, I had Garrus for all of it, but I thought that Miranda’s team (since I chose her to lead the other team) could stand a better chance with the group’s only Krogan on board.

Imagine that, I was actually trying to save a bunch of programs, even putting my own program avatar at grave (if a well-calculated) risk.

Like I said, it felt fast. I was surprised to be at the “final boss stage” of the whole game when I got there and, truth to tell, it was relatively easier than some of the firefights I’ve been in. It was all just about ammo management, weapon selection, and making sure you’re taking cover on the right side of the blocks. Because when I snuck behind the wrong side I almost died.

Actually, I felt like my biggest achievement wasn’t the destr… uh, neutralization of the Collector base: it was keeping my team, all of them, alive. Not a single one died, and through all the missions in that last chapter my faith in their abilities and insistence to gather enough people like them paid off handsomely. Sure, I depended a lot on Miranda but she wasn’t my XO for nothing. But I wonder how the outcome would have been if I had chosen the specialists differently. If I had chosen Tali, or even Dr. Mordin Solus, to do the ducts mission instead of Legion, would I have lost them? If I had deprived Miranda’s diversion team of any of the prime biotic combatants instead of choosing a power battery like Jack to be our shield, would the radio chatter from the other group sound bad?

I’ve read a lot of negative press on Bioware, especially as I read up on Star Wars: The Old Republic. Having played my fair share of Bioware roleplaying games (Neverwinter Nights, KOTOR, KOTOR 2, the first Mass Effect) I couldn’t understand it. What were these people looking for, anyway?

I mean, I remember thinking, even before the Normandy memorial DLC, that the attention to detail was quite good, if not amazing. What you did in ME1 did carry over to ME2, and there was this sense of… connectedness. If it wasn’t due to NPC interactions, the emails gave it a different level of immersion, entirely.

Hell, I remember how I felt doing the Normandy memorial DLC. It was technically a simple drop, fetch and place. There weren’t even any enemies. But the way the design team made it, there was a… poignancy to the whole thing. I don’t know, maybe it was just me with my backgrounds in government service and exposure to the culture of the military. I was standing on the graveyard of my old ship, gathering the dog tags of those that didn’t live through the Collector’s bushwhacking of the first Normandy. When I got the last one, I was thinking, “you’re going home now, men. You’re going home.” And Prestley’s diary entries ensured that I placed the memorial near his old station.

I guess what I’m trying to say is… this is a roleplaying game, over and above the fact that you get to shoot lots of things and people with nifty guns, and you even get to shag one of your team’s ladies. For me, what makes a videogame RPG epic isn’t (just) the eye candy or gameplay. It isn’t even how long or complicated the story goes. It’s how the story is told, from beginning to end. It’s those little details in the middle that make you stop and smell the roses on your route to being the Big Hero (or Heroine, for the FemSheps out there). It’s those little moral dilemmas in the plot that actually make you stand up and walk around the room, agonizing about which decision to take.

In the end, Shepherd saved the galaxy a second time around. I don’t think that would ever be in doubt. Aside from making sure by gathering all the possible crew members outside of the DLCs (and one that was in a DLC) and making them loyal, there’s always the reload button. So, yes, I think we all know that, at the end of it all, Shepherd and the crew of the second Normandy would kick Reaper and Collector butt yet again.

But the getting there, and how that final chapter was made…

How many non-multiplayer games do you know can make you scream, “God! My Team is SO. AWESOME!”, in sheer delight and makes you worry for the fate of your other team members even as you engage in a firefight for your life?

This was a videogame of about how one man and his team, his friends, saved the galaxy. When you’re telling a story on that epic scale, the experience has to be up to those standards.

And I’m happy to say that Mass Effect 2 just blew past mine.

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