Mass Effect 2- A Lack of World Building: An Unpopular Opinion

If you know me personally, then you should know… I hate Mass Effect 2. Not only do I hate the game, I think it is one of the worst in the series. It’s not as buggy as Andromeda, but I still hate it more. The question everyone ever has is why? Here we go, strap yourselves in for another mind-boggling and blood pressure raising argument about why Mass Effect 2: Is an awful sequel to the original masterpiece.

Intro-

Now I was a huge fan of the Original Mass Effect, in fact I played the original title at least a dozen times in a year. I loved the classes, the individuals contained within and I was a broke teenager who barely got his parents to buy him this game. So when I got Mass Effect I was hooked. I dug into the codex’s, the books that Bioware sold and just about anything I could get my hands on. Shepard was my rock. I loved previous Bioware games and Mass Effect was no different. What really set it apart though was its story.

(A Great Story)

The story in the original mass effect was so intriguing, murder, Specter’s and going across the galaxy to stop some kind of artificial intelligence gone wild. It was AWESOME! Getting the ability to feel like a kind of bad to the bone cop and then deciding what kind of savior I was going to be. I had crew members who were as varied as the pimples on my face and that was a great thing. There were options and different way to play, I could even be a Jedi or some kind of engineer. I became Shepard, I was Shepard.

After playing through the original more times than I can count I knew the game had problems. It’s shooting wasn’t the best, there were definite high and low parts of the game, but I didn’t care. I loved it. When Mass Effect 2 came out my prepubescent mind couldn’t stand it, another Mass Effect! What is going to happen to the reapers? Is Saren gone? Will the council actually stay dead and it only be humans!?!? So many questions that I needed to know.

Unfortunately it never lived up to my expectations and as someone who really did dig deep into the lore and read the books by Drew Karpyshyn, I had high expectations, and hopes. I knew how the guns worked. They had unlimited ammo because they shaved pieces of metal off and shot them off at immensely huge speeds they overheated due to the amount of energy it took to use that kind of power. I knew descriptions of some of the alien races based off of the books, what a Quarian looked like underneath the exosuit, why Saren really became part of the Reapers.

I was a Mass Effect nerd, I fell in love with the world that was being built and I just couldn’t get enough of that world at all. Personally I wanted more of the same, but with obvious changes. Mako sections could be better, gun play should be a little tighter, and maybe not a huge citadel, make it smaller. I had a list of issues, but I loved it despite those issues. Mass Effect 2 released and within the first 2 hours. I was pissed.

(Angry Shepard Not Impressed)

Lore-

Now if there is one thing that will quickly anger me in games it is when they completely rescind what they said in previous entries. I don’t like it, I think it’s dumb. If you were going to make a story arc stay with it, end of story. Mass Effect 2 takes back so much of what made parts of the first one so important and then takes story arcs from the books and completely destroys them. Now I know what you are saying, the books aren’t part of the game world, well you can eat a giant prickly cactus fruit, because these were canon stories.

I liked these stories and they better fleshed out parts of the world while introducing you to elements of what would eventually become Mass Effect 2. Cerberus was introduced there and it was an interesting concept that I totally loved, until they changed a lot of Cerberus to make them “bad” guys. The lore was changed, the weapons were changed, the characters had changed and the game had changed. My mind wasn’t ready for this. From the very beginning with Shepard dying, first of all…why? Second of all…WHY KILL HIM IF YOU BRING HIM BACK 5 MINUTES LATER!!!!

(Like really…it makes no sense)

It makes no sense! AT ALL! The only reason you kill him is to get him to have some kind of sense of identity with Cerberus and making him work for them. Why go through all of that trouble? Sure the “Reapers” killed Shepard, but I don’t buy that for a minute, and while we are at it why didn’t they shoot the escape pods? Reapers are the ultimate enemy in the galaxy and they just happen to only shoot the main ship? This isn’t Star Wars, you aren’t wasting money by not shooting an escape pod with no life forms on it. Come on BIOWARE!

Oh it is worth mentioning that this was the first big title that Bioware did with EA, and one day I’ll talk about that, eventually, that’s for another time though. So we already started with a shaky story beginning, which I ignore when I started playing the game because I wanted to see what would happen. With shaky testing and some ridiculous sci-fi resurrection (even for mass effect standards) involved we eventually get Shepard back. It almost seemed like they wanted to start with a new player, but couldn’t due to the fact that this was going to be a trilogy.

I think an argument happened somewhere within bioware or even EA about starting with new characters, because if you think about it, you retain almost nothing from the original. The council exists and doesn’t welcome Shepard back, even if you killed off all of the alien councilmen, the humans are still wary of you. You aren’t allowed to become a Spectre again, weird, and then you are hired by Cerberus to be a good guy. What? Isn’t this like an entire 180 degree turn from what the original was all about? I mean it’s weird…right? I can’t be the only one…

(Just can’t keep em’ down….)

The lore of mass effect 2 is just weird. It’s like they wanted to fix the problems from the original but make it a much more streamlined game. I didn’t get space opera with exploration, I got shooty mcstab face with dialogue options. The lore that built the original up to such great heights was eventually left crashing down to the ground. It’s world building and how things worked were just eventually scrapped. Why is the story so dramatically different? Why didn’t we follow the same line of thought? They could have introduced Cerberus in so many ways to players who hadn’t read the books. Instead they decide to focus on you working for them. I’m not a fan…obviously.

 

Gameplay-

Now I’m never going to argue that the gunplay from the original is better, it’s obviously not. The original had plenty of issues, it felt clunky at times and aiming was more of a chore than it should have been. Mass Effect 2 really added a lot to that side of the gameplay. I think though that they forgot that the original Mass Effect was one part RPG and one part Shooter. That is where my beef starts to stew with Mass Effect 2. The original Mass Effect wasn’t a shooter in my eyes, it was an RPG with shooting instead of atypical turn based combat or combat like KOTOR.

The shooting wasn’t great but it worked. Mass Effect 2 takes the entire idea of an RPG with shooting mechanics and turns it into a shooter with RPG mechanics. You might say, but those are almost the same thing. Except they’re not, they are two completely different ideas. RPG’s have a certain amount of character built into them, which is the third and last point I will talk about later in this unpopular opinion.  Mass Effect 2 drops that type of characterization for a more modern shooter. Gone were the RPG elements of a deep customizable skill tree with charm and intimidation. Gone were the Sci-Fi elements of unlimited ammo with limitations coming from overheating and not running out of bullets. Instead of long quests with various different races and species it became more focused on the party. What happened?

(Mass Effect 2’s Level Up screen)

In the ever-present world of having to sell more, Mass Effect changed to the dark side. It became a shooter. It became like fallout, but that’s not fair to fallout because it has deeper RPG mechanics than Mass Effect, it became what the original wasn’t, a shooter. Evolution turned it into taking cover and shooting your way through facilities. Finding a suicide squad to help you take down the Reaper threat that eventually grows into an even bigger threat. It’s not that the shooting mechanics shouldn’t have evolved, I’m glad they did, but not at the cost of the RPG mechanics.

(Mass Effect 1’s Level Up Screen)

Leveling things like charm vs intimidate in the first game were stats that mattered. You weren’t going to charm the Rachni queen into stopping her genocidal tendencies. You had to go a different route. Instead everything is decided by your Renegade or Paragon level, which still isn’t really a great way to do things because it means that you are forced to go one route or the other if you want more dialogue options. Mass Effect 2 forces you to stop focusing on the RPG mechanics and just live with how things are. Well I say nay, or Ni.

I personally believe that these gameplay issues are huge problems. They don’t make the game any better and in fact they kind of kill what made the original such a fascinating game. Every point you invested mattered in Shepard and made your Shepard unique. Whereas in Mass Effect 2 it just felt like you had a few skills to choose from and then you were done. There wasn’t much more to pick in the game. I didn’t feel like my Shepard was suave anymore, it was just is he a good cop or a renegade cop? I didn’t feel that personalization there.

It’s the changing of core gameplay. If the new Elder Scrolls game was announced and the gameplay changed to being a more linear style game, but with more crafting and better swordplay, everyone would be pissed. That’s kind of what happened here. The game was really tethered down, the worlds weren’t as big, exploration was shut down to a minimum, RPG elements were cut and then the moment to moment gunplay was enhanced. Is that acceptable? For most people yes, for myself…not really.

 

Characterization-

If there is one thing the original Mass Effect had it was characterization. The world built-in the original Mass Effect is so large and so vast that it’s hard to believe how much content they stuffed into one game. From dozens of alien species to the complex political aspects of different species and planets, Mass Effect had character. It was neat going to multiple human colonies and non-human colonies. Seeing how every race treated each other. Every race didn’t love humans and not every human loved other alien races. It was fantastic.

(Got to get that inter-species erotica going!)

The game built up the idea that even though one alien is a complete and utter jerk, the whole alien species doesn’t act like that, seems like we could learn that lesson today huh? Regardless this idea continuously builds upon itself in the game. You meet aliens that are annoying to you at first like the Elcor. This alien species has to specify its tone when it talks, which at first is really annoying, but then after talking to them you understand that their vocal cords are incapable of giving off tone, so to make up for this they started to say their tone to make it clear to other alien species when they talk.

Or we could talk about the Hanar and their crazy religious concepts. There are sidequests dedicated to multiple different alien species and learning about them in Mass Effect. Mass Effect 2 drops this charade though. It doesn’t want to focus on learning all of the different species and instead drops all of that into the codex entries. Which okay yes it is still technically there, but a lot of characterization of the world is lost as a result. Mass Effect 2 wants to get you closer to the action with every passing minute. You aren’t asked to mess with political state of affairs and very rarely does a side-quest not lead you to some great discovery.

(Weird religious zealots….)

Mass Effect 2 is all about instant gratification, whereas Mass Effect 1’s gratification was in the discovery of something new. Slowly figuring out about the Krogan’s and their Genophage, taking pictures with a fan every time you are on the citadel, or even something as simple as paying for a lap dance. It’s the simple things in life right? Mass Effect knew how to build its world from top to bottom. Were things like the Mako annoying in the first one? Heck yes, you know what was cool about it though? When it was done right the worlds were fun to explore and discover.

Mass Effect 2 drops this entire idea of exploration for something much more human and close to the ground. The story of the crew and the rag-tag members you find is great, but I wouldn’t say that it is any better than any of the characters from Mass Effect 1.  In fact I would say that Mass Effect 2 (and 3) try to emulate the crew from the original so much that they failed to create new personalities. Wrex and Grunt are clearly trying too hard to be the same character, Miranda is a mixture of Ashley and Kaidan and Garrus is the only one that stays true to Shepard. Because he’s sweet as pie. Oh and Tali…sort of.

(The OG crew)

None of the characters in Mass Effect 2 are even bad. The game just fails to build a world quite as big as the original. Side characters were much more important and in Mass Effect 2 I missed my original crew, and by the time I got to Mass Effect 3 I realized it was a lost cause. I loved the world from Mass Effect and I still don’t understand why they dropped that world building, it loses so much.

 

Conclusion-

Look I’m painfully aware that from a moment to moment gameplay perspective Mass Effect 2 is the better game, I can admit to that. What I can’t admit is that Mass Effect 2 is the better world. It’s not. Mass Effect 2 is a very shallow shell of what the original created. The world is deeper better developed, the RPG elements are so well implemented that it is an RPG with shooter mechanics. It’s not fair to overlook the first game and just pretend that it is the goofy younger brother to Mass Effect 2.

If we actually compare from a world building perspective and story idea, Mass Effect 1 clearly wins, it may not be the better gameplay, but I’ll take that world over the gameplay any day. You can take that unpopular opinion to my gaming grave.