Memories of Commander Shepard

I loved Mass Effect. And when I say I loved it I mean that the second I picked it up I played it with a fervor and intensity I have rarely bestowed upon any game. I interrupted what was to be a long chain of accomplishment-completing Dragon Age: Origins playthroughs for what I thought would be a short break and haven’t picked DA:O (which I am also quite fond of) since.

Mass Effect had everything I had long been missing in my games: Spaceships, Guns, Swashbuckling Adventure, Hot Blue Alien Chicks, and all wrapped in a compelling Bioware story somehow set in a Space Opera world somehow as deadly as it was silly. Even the morality system was….different. And that in a good way. I had been hesitant to pick up Mass Effect on release, convinced (and frequently vindicated in my belief that) the Shooter and RPG game genres were too diverse to be successfully merged. What someone forgot to tell me is that for all they talked about it, Bioware didn’t even try.

Mass Effect is a shooter, full stop. It has some elements typical of RPGs, but it doesn’t let them get in the way of just blastin’ stuff. It is, in short, Bioware’s idea of a shooter. And it’s immensely fun. Note however that I still want an RPG with spaceships.

Don’t get me wrong, Mass Effect had its flaws: cumbersome inventory system, minimalistic level design (only the mission worlds and the citadel have any real depth and even they’re missing something,) and numerous typical Bioware RPG flaws that just carried on over. But it was the most fun I’d had in years.

So I picked up Mass Effect 2. And to clarify, I loved it. Better than Mass Effect in many ways.

But Mass Effect 2 had its issues.

The most painful moment of my ME2 experience was when I imported my old save, watched an interminable and largely uninteresting cut-scene that managed to simultaneously show and trivialize the death of the ship I had grown to love, and found that none of my lovingly collected and selected hardware had carried over. Though I had to some extent expected it, I was the wrong kind of sad when Maggie Shepard died without a face in the armor she had discarded less than ten minutes into the first ME planetary excursion.

And then of course her arch-nemesis Cerberus resurrected her at immense cost. But what do you expect? This is a universe where there is an entire species of asexual blue-skinned aliens (Not to mention, as of ME2, apparently every other sapient species in the galaxy) somehow manage not only just to have breasts with nipples about where humans normally expect them but to be totally sexually compatible with humanity. And then I’m railroaded into working with a shockingly well-funded terrorist organization. For the good of humanity. To say this plot made somewhat less sense than ME’s is roughly like saying that stars are somewhat larger than planets — generally something of an understatement.

But okay, the new ship’s nice, even if they did insult the old one by naming it after her. And Miranda’s kinda pretty I guess (she doesn’t like girls, but what are you gonna do?) and after a bit of tinkering, I got the new armor looking okay, and I’m good to go.

But I have some problems:

1) Why are my bullets so slow? In ME they were fast projectiles, generally hitting exactly what I aimed at exactly when I pulled the trigger. In ME2, I can actually see them flying at the target, where they often miss because the enemy has moved.

2) Where is the Mako?! I loved the Mako. Sure, its controls were a bit wonky and the planets a bit bland and empty, but it was fun to drive and fun to fight with.

3) Why am I suddenly in charge of scanning planets? Don’t I have people for that?! In ME, I pressed a button and presto! Scanning done. Expanding a single button-push into a tedious mini-game is a bad idea.

4) I thought Joker was still the pilot. Why am I now flying the ship? And why is it now a little cartoon ship that has its own weird physics? Back in ME, I just clicked on where I wanted to go and we just went there. Vastly preferable.

5) Tiered character advancement is kinda neat, but options now seem sparse and meticulous planning necessary to get the most out of a relatively few character points.

6) Thermal Clips?! If the opening cutscene was the most painful experience in ME2, these were the most baffling. In ME1 we kept our guns cool and firing without these confusing doodads, and we generally brought as much of whatever we needed to the mission with us, rather than relying on the enemy to drop it.

7) Wherever Bioware had two choices on how to simplify a game mechanic they picked the wrong one. Morality and Persuasion (Charm/Intimidate) were both good concepts, but linking them into a kind of feedback loop was bad. So Bioware kept the feedback loop and lost the skills. Electronics and Decryption were good concepts, but their associated minigames were annoying. So Bioware dumped both and brought in different minigames instead. So every Soldier is now an expert hacker.

8) Ammo Powers. It’s either ammo (in which case anyone can use it) or it’s a power (in which case it’s not ammo.) It’s not both. Soldiers can have real skills/powers. “I know how to use freeze ammo” is the lamest superpower ever.

9) We’ve gotten rid of the need to accumulate loot, so why is my campaign for the salvation of the galaxy still basically funded by petty larceny and theft?

10) Almost no variety in equipment. There are like three guns (at best) of any one type, and only two or three types of armor for each location. DLCs make things worse, not better, generally offering a piece of equipment (with free irritating Illusive Man E-Mail) you start the game with and would be stupid not to always use. Also, Shep has apparently forgotten to take off her helmet.

11) The suicide mission wasn’t anything of the sort. Everyone (including me) lived. And I wasn’t even trying. It took me some serious Internet searching to figure out how to screw it up.

But so, it was a fun movie even if it had no lesbian love interest and wasn’t much of a game. So I go poking around on line to find something to get excited about concerning the sequel.

And that’s where I find out how ME2 got the way it was.

I have to say, folks, did we play completely different games? Yes, skills effected accuracy in ME, but Shep was still a badass at Level 1. I never had any trouble hitting things. Your shooter skillz are teh lame.

And I *loved* the Mako. Not saying ME2’s level design wasn’t better off without it, but I sure did miss it.

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