Mass Effect 2: A Breakup Letter

Dear Mass Effect 2,

Mass Effect 2. Dearest, Mass Effect 2. Whatever will I do with you? We’ve had our good times and bad, but you’ve made some decisions that have left me scratching my head. You’ve changed ever since your early years as Mass Effect 1, and while I’m still the same old Shepherd, you’re not the same game I fell in love with. This is going to be hard to hear, especially since it seems you have millions upon millions of admirers and–dare I say?—fanboys, but sometimes the hardest things to hear are the most important.

First, I’d like to say that you still sport that superb storytelling that first drew me to you. Actually, in this area you’ve improved across the board. Recruiting team members, gaining their trust, and simply getting to know each person—each one flawed, fleshed out, and masterfully written—was a treat. The voice acting has been ratcheted up to another level; Martin Sheen is Shepherd’s boss in this go around, and every time I heard his voice, I imagined him sitting behind his desk in the West Wing. I’d go to the ends of the universe and back for President Bartlet, and in fact I did.

Meet President Bartl--err, the Illusive Man

But here’s the thing: your universe feels empty, beloved Mass Effect 2. When I returned to the Citadel, the whole scale and grandeur I had felt when I first walked through the Presidium and Wards was completely lost. I remember back in our old days, when you were still Mass Effect 1, we would romp about planets, and even if they were empty, at least we were romping. Sure, the vehicle controls sometimes sucked, but it sure beat the hell out of sending probes to scour a planet for minerals. Finding minerals might be the most boring thing I’ve done in a video game for a long time. The inclusion of hacking mini games is certainly an improvement over the old you, but still, don’t ever make me scan planets, ever again. My play through lasted 35 hours. That’s a pretty big chunk of time, but at the same time, I’d say at least 5 of those hours were spent gathering resources.

Pretty, but you won't be seeing this much

Why spend all my time with something I hate? Because you, Mass Effect 2, in all your wisdom, decided to get rid of inventories, loot, and item merchants almost entirely. Every time I wanted to improve my squad, I had to take the time and find the correct minerals. This drove me nuts, and I couldn’t help but remembering the old Mass Effect, where I had a plethora of weapons and ammo to choose from. I felt like a galactic force because I had fought through so many enemies and found the best of the best; I had a sniper that could kill end-game enemies with one bullet, and armor that made me a god. That was my Shepherd, my beloved Mass Effect; this new Shepherd, who can only select from handful of guns, seems like an imposter. I’ll grant you that some of the heavy weapons are awesome, but their use is limited.

It’s a shame, too, because your combat is exciting and a marked improvement over the old you. Nothing gets me quite as riled up as sending a shockwave of biotic power (magic, basically) through a crowd of enemies and watching them get knocked off a cliff. The abilities of each class are unique and intriguing enough for me to play through this again, but it doesn’t really feel like I’m developing my character, since you aren’t really an RPG anymore, Mass Effect 2. You’re an action game with RPG elements.

I know, that hurts you as much as it hurt me to write it, but you’ve had some work done, let’s face facts: it looks like you had liposuction and removed all that fleshy RPG goodness that I loved so much (yes, I enjoyed your love-handle-inventory system, even if it was a bit clunky). I don’t mind the new you, with your streamlined point system to level up abilities, but it feels wrong. It feels hollow. It feels like an action game.

Maybe you’ve been hanging around Gear of War too much. I’ve always told you he was a bad influence on you. But I know deep down inside, you’re still the great game that I used to love. You still have character, you tell great stories, and you provide an epic adventure that actually had me emotionally connected to what I was doing. So fine, I’ll put up with you right now—I’ll scan your stupid planets so I can upgrade my crew enough that they won’t all die at the end of the game. And I wanted to do that, because I really ended up caring for my people, but it felt tedious. The magic is gone, Mass Effect 2. The honey moon is over. When you come back from your development cycle, I hope you add those RPG elements back in—just because your inventory system sucked doesn’t mean you should excise it like a tumor—or else don’t pretend you’re an RPG anymore. I don’t mind if you call yourself an action game, just let me know so I don’t get my hopes up.

So it’s nothing personal, but I want you to know, there’s a new lady in my life. Her name is Dragon Age, and she’s a very nice RPG. Not completely traditional, but still an RPG, so when you come back as Mass Effect 3, I’ll be looking forward to getting back in touch with you. But for right now, I think we can only be friends.

Sorry so sloppy,

Neutrally Chaotic

P.S. I’m not some RPG old guard clinging to old systems. I’m just saying getting rid of items/loot, coupled with a streamlined leveling up system (which I actually didn’t mind so much) made this game feel less like an RPG and more like an action game.

P.P.S If it comes down to planet scanning to upgrade my characters or grinding through battles to level up and gather loot, I’ll take the grind every day. Planets were made for landing on, not staring at.

The Good: each squad member’s story is better told and more interesting than most stories in other games; the revamped combat system is fast-paced and exciting; enjoyed the carry-over elements when playing as an imported Mass Effect 1 character (they weren’t game changing, but they certainly added interesting elements); actually felt a desire to see my squad survive the final mission.

The Bad: no loot and a very boring upgrade system; streamlined RPG system takes away some of the customization; completely gets rid of an inventory; sense of scale diminished from the last game as most planets are unable to be visited; overarching story feels like a middle story—I didn’t feel like this game added much to the canon of Mass Effect other than stringing together the beginning and the upcoming conclusion (Mass Effect 3) to the trilogy.

The Verdict: Buy. It is well crafted, a smooth experience, and the stories of your squad members are perhaps the most memorable in video game history. Just know that this game really plays more like an action game (more so than the first Mass Effect) and barely feels like an RPG. If you want that traditional RPG experience—building up characters, equipping the weapons you want, etc—I honestly can’t recommend this to you. If you’re not a fan of third-person shooters, I also can’t recommend this to you. To everyone else, buy this game or borrow it if you’re nervous about it.

For another opinion of Mass Effect 2, read Malonish’s guest review here.

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3 Responses

  1. bravo NeutrallyChaotic.
    bravo indeed.
    i find no blatant disagreement with anything that you have said in this review lol.
    the only thing we seem to be split on is the scanning.
    it didn’t annoy me as much as it clearly did you but i too found it a bit tedious.
    as for the characters, their stories, combat system, and overall ME2 story…i’m with you step for step.
    glad i read this.
    my hat is off.

  2. Thank you very much good sir! I don’t know why the planet scanning irked me so much, but it did. Maybe it’s because the game basically forced me to scan planets in order to get anywhere in the game.

  3. […] I suppose Mass Effect 2 does feel empty (that was one of my complaints about the game when I reviewed it), but I wonder what the person was doing when they searched for that? Maybe they were looking […]

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