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Sequel Slump: Mass Effect 2 - Editorial
The second Mass Effect gave gamers many things to be happy about; the goddamned Bat-Turian, the best interpretation of quick-time events ever, and a whole lot more space adventure. But it also gave us plot holes, kill rooms, and meaningless character advancement.
I should go, now.
I loved the original Mass Effect. Loved, loved, loved. The combat was engaging; the equipment, skill, and party creation systems had depth; the story was a breath of fresh air for science fiction fans.
To me, Mass Effect 2 was a disappointment. The character development may have been better, but the I felt like the RPG systems "streamlining" treated me like I was a moron. I didn't buy the game to play an action-based shooter with a few RPG elements; I bought it to play an RPG.
I recently replayed the ME trilogy. ME1 was just as fun as the several other times I had played it. ME2 was, to put it simply, a chore, and playing it directly after ME1 feels like whiplash.
The main problem is that the actual story of the game gets sidelined for almost the entire game. You spend over 75% of the game going on missions that have absolutely no purpose other than recruiting a specific character or dealing with a character's personal issues. The absolutely worst part about replaying ME2 though? You know that it doesn't matter in the least. As you said, at the end of the game you are in the exact same spot as you were at the beginning of the game, just with a more pimped out ship. The reapers are still coming, no one believes you, etc etc. The team that you spent almost the entire game recruiting or playing psychiatrist-with-a-gun for are split up, most of them just making cameos in 3.
This isn't even covering the changes to gameplay, which cause just as much whiplash as the story changes.
I actually liked that ME2 and ME3 streamlined the experience. I generally hate that in series (I've ranted many times about what Bethesda has done to TES over the years), but with Mass Effect I thought it really worked.
Given that, I felt that a lot of the praise for ME2 seemed to come from people who hadn't played ME1. Probably playing on the PS3, since they didn't have ME1 at the time. And that's fine, but story wise ME2 was vastly inferior. Where ME1 had a lot going on, ME2's plot can basically be summarized as "opening", "collect characters", (optionally) "do character loyalty quests", "ending". I didn't feel that there was any real story advancement in ME2.
And following finishing ME3, I felt that the series could have gone in a drastically better plot direction had they not bothered with all the cruft added in ME2. It really feels like they didn't know where they wanted to go with ME2 and the rest of the story at the time they designed it, which is why they spent most of the game just adding characters rather than advancing the story. ME2 is easily the weakest link in the story for me. I was always shocked at how much people adored that game. Whereas ME3 went the obvious direction it pretty much had to, and people gave it a hard time.
And now I'm at a point where I feel the story was told. As much as I like the universe in that game, its best to set it down now and let it be what it was. I don't want to see any more Mass Effect. Please, just let it go gracefully.
Unlikely considering the PS3 version came out a full year later, after a full year of said praise. I really don't think that's accurate anyway. A lot of people found a ton of aspects of Mass Effect 1 annoying, especially a lot of the technical issues on the 360 version, so ME2 was a welcome improvement. ME1 was not and still is not universally liked so let's not make that mistake. The gameplay in 1 had a TON of issues.
Originally Posted by smacd
Mass Effect is series that wound up not living up to the promises of the franchise: chiefly, the idea of player agency and your choices impacting the fate of the galaxy. In a more normal story arc we'd have some mini-climaxes in favor of a steadily mounting plot that comes to a great conclusion. Mass Effect plays more like a magic trick, we're given a pledge, then we have a turn, then the prestige.
ME1 comes out of it all better than most, because so much of it is setup. It is "the pledge" of the magic trick, and all of these various choices are made about the fates of races, and so on. All most all of the action is in service of the plot, and in that respect it's a fast-paced game. All of the superfluous exploration is just that: optional opportunities to expand your feeling of the universe.
ME2 is "the turn" of the magic trick, but it winds up being an odd one. We would expect the plot to engage the imminent danger setup at the end of the 1st game to go full speed ahead, instead... the plot vanishes. We seem to be chasing a side-plot that isn't directly related to the imminent danger from the end of ME1. It's even more worrisome because you effectively "lose time" at the beginning... which would suggest things are even more imminent, no? Instead, the game is lesson in character development, which was mostly optional in the first game. The series plot is abandoned, and you spend a game doing nothing but building a team... and getting to know them. It's like a visual novel almost... meet your team then go out on dates with them!! The reapers?! Don't forget to feed your fish. The character development IS better, but you're left wondering what the hell you're doing when 90% of the game is "Make a friend!".
So, ME3 has the unenviable task of producing the prestige: show us that all those decisions you teased us with, all those choices you empowered us with, show us that they matter. It produced a turd instead. None of your choices matter in the end, aside from in the shallow visual novel fashion (who did you have a relationship with?! lol!). People that died are conveniently replaced for the most part, etc. etc. It's a two-fer though, the character development we got distracted with in the turn isn't really fulfilled either, with almost every person you got to know over the 90% of ME2 reduced to cameos on missions. That the ending was unsatisfying is sort of a foregone conclusion to all the broken promises in between.
Conversely the mechanics mostly improved across the series (aside from a gross over-simplification of skill added to ME2). ME3 mostly fixed that, though I'm not 100% on the equipment changes and stripped down ability to customize armor that carried over from ME2. Lore-wise, some of it was sort of sketchy. Biotics were setup as a very grounded science/mass-impacting power in ME1, but by ME2 you basically had mind control and leech powers. So.... eh.... I thought they were fun, but I kinda like when they try to ground things as well.
This was a similar to a pet peeve of the very "grounded" powers of magic and abominations (possessed mages) in Dragon Age, which were thrown out the window in DA2. It was always slightly vexing to have to explain to people who thought the only issue with DA2 was reused maps that they slaughtered their own lore in basically every possible way.
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