McMillan’s Codex #38 By C.T. McMillan
Mass Effect 2
Roleplaying games come in all shapes and sizes. Elder Scrolls and Fallout are technical with player interactivity in mind, while Kingdom Hearts 2 and the like are thematic with an emphasis on linearity. A few titles achieve a balance of the two where you have depth-full interactivity punctuated by a good story. Bioware is known for this kind of RPG and the first one I played was Mass Effect 2 (ME2).
Since the first game’s release in 2007, the series has garnered quite the reputation, but I never got onboard until the second. After three play-throughs I picked up the previous title and noticed a lapse in the combat side of gameplay. ME is a third-person, cover-based shooter where you engage in firefights while moving between conveniently placed waste-high halls. It could not be simpler and yet ME1 is clunky and awkward.
It feels as though the developers had to include combat without knowing how to make it work. Covering and shooting is hard to control and enemies will always charge. Since the shooting lacks finesse, it is difficult to put space between you and the enemy to get a shot. You either kill them before they get close or get away without dying. The levels themselves were not designed for shooting with tight spaces that exacerbate the other problems. Five hours in, I could not take it anymore and abandoned ME1 entirely. Fortunately, the combat is the first thing 2 gets right. It plays like any other with the addition of class abilities like the original, but no one likes Mass Effect for the shooting.
The strength of a good RPG is the ability to build your own character, go wherever you want, and do what you want as ME lets you to tailor the narrative. You determine who lives and dies, who to love and hate, and make crucial decisions in important situations. Each choice, no matter how big or small, informs who you are as a person as the main character Commander Shepard. By reputation you will be known as either a good guy or a malevolent psychopath.
There is an interesting meta-game with the Paragon/Renegade System where each choice applies points to one of the two fields. The total amount present determines what moral specific choices you can make in conversations. For example, when two teammates get into a fight, you must choose which to side with, leaving the other to hate you. If you have enough Paragon/Renegade points, you can convince them to settle their differences without losing trust.
The level of each field is determined by choices and if you do not have enough, your preferred option will be unavailable. It is an interesting concept that epitomizes the idea of a personalized character, but it prevents you from doing exactly what you want. What if you played Paragon and you wanted a Renegade option for a certain situation? It would not be available if you do not have enough points because you had been making all the Paragon choices before then. The amount of points varies per choice, but some of the bigger decisions give you the most, and once they are gone, there is no going back.
Other aspects beyond simple binary choice involve who you interact with and how often. Most of the story involves gathering your team to take down the Collectors, an alien race that has been kidnapping humans all over the galaxy. Each member is their own character that you can talk to between missions. They also have a romance option depending on your preferred sexuality. Interaction builds rapport and completing their respective Trust Missions will ensure loyalty.
On top of all these options is a well thought out world with as much depth. There are about a dozen alien races with their own culture, anatomy, and mannerisms. There is the asari, an all female race that reproduces by barrowing DNA from partners, and the quarian, a nomadic race that wears airtight suits because they have a weak immune system. All the races inhabit a unified galaxy as they struggle to overcome each other’s conflicts and prejudices in the midst of an enemy that threatens existence itself. The world is so detailed there is a glossary on everything from the history to the science.
Mass Effect 2 is arguably perfect. Many say the game is more combat-oriented than roleplaying, but in all my years, I have not found a more complete blend of conventional gameplay mechanics with a deep and plentiful interactive experience, supplemented by a complex world. There is a lot you can do, and all of it matters … until you get to Mass Effect 3.
C.T. McMillan (Episode 169) is a film critic and devout gamer. He has a Bachelors for Creative Writing in Entertainment from Full Sail University.