What I’m Playing: Mass Effect 2 (Part 3)

This being the final part of my ME2 report, it contains spoilers except in the first and last paragraph.

In the first two parts, I looked at game mechanics and the first part of the story, and at the different characters you can recruit. I have now finished the game – finally, after breaks due to traveling to Japan, celebrating Christmas, and a work retreat that involved lots of skiing and discussions. So in the contemporary spirit of “everything that has more than one part shall have three, no more, no less. Three shall be the number of parts thou shalt write, and the number of the parts shall be three. Four shalt thou not write, neither write thou two, excepting that thou then proceed to write a thirdst. Five is right out. Once the number three, being the third number, be reached, then thou proclaimest a trilogy and a great work before Man complete.”

Ahem. I think I got sidetracked there. Anyway, part 3: overall thoughts on Mass Effect 2.

My opinion on mechanics hasn’t changed since I wrote part 1. I like the streamlined team management, but the removal of a lot of convenient hotkeys compared to ME1 was annoying. Researching equipment is cool, but ONLY researching, no buying, was a bit odd. Likewise, my opinion on my team mates hasn’t changed either since I wrote part 2. There wasn’t much opportunity to change anyway, since with a team that large, interaction gets a bit spread thin. In hindsight, I think the game might’ve benefited from half as many team members with stronger characters. (Or just remove the ones I don’t like! That’s a good solution, isn’t it?)

Last time I wrote about the story, I had played up to and not including the Reaper IFF mission. From there, the story continues at high speed. Basically, after you find the IFF, you are urged to take the one-way trip through the Omega 4 relay as soon as possible. This starts the point-of-no-return endgame, like in so many other RPGs that allow for some non-linearity in the middle part of the game, but have a linear final part.

I liked a lot that, once you were on the other side, you had to assign some of your team members to additional squads for specific tasks. You’ll go in with two members of your team like always, but you might need a technical specialist to go behind the lines and open doors for you, a leader for a second “relieve squad”, or a protector to escort human abductees you saved from the collectors back to your ship. After I finished the game, I read a walkthrough about that part, and it seems there is a bit of choice there. In most cases, it is quite clear who to send: better send Tali as a technician than Grunt. If you don’t, people tend to die. I’m not sure whether that is a very compelling choice, but I guess it’s better than nothing. The choices being so obvious most of the time, I ended up losing not a single one of my team members, but it seems that potentially, you can end up losing most of your crew. In any case, there is some illusion of tactics going on, with squad assignment and radio contact between the different groups while you fight through the collector ship.

The final decision of the game is a bit weird: You were sent in to destroy a collector ship. Just before you set the fuse, the Illusive Man chimes in and suggests you save the ship so Cerberus could investigate its technology. I mulled over that decision for some time, getting up from my chair, having a coffee, walking around, and in the end decided to go through and blow it up.

There are definitely good reasons to save the ship: the argument that the technology might help in defeating the reapers and collectors, who sure as hell will come for you after you destroyed one of their ships, is compelling. Throwing away that opportunity might be a fatal mistake. Indeed, the final scene shows hundreds of collector ships moving in for an attack, setting the scene for the beginning of ME3, no doubt.

On the other hand, it seems that you are missing the most logical choice. You can either destroy the ship, or hand it over to Cerberus. Why not to the Council? I’d rather not hand something that important and powerful over to some dangerous race supremacy group. The Illusive Man confirmed my suspicion when he told me in the final debriefing of the game that I had sabotaged a chance for “human dominance”. That doesn’t sound like such a bad thing after all (the sabotage, not the dominance). I also thought about Mordin’s words on Tuchanka, when he suggested that part of the Krogan problem was that they got technology from outside before they were ready for it – a bit like many people say that with thermonuclear weapons, human technology has dangerously outpaced human morality. Finally, the other reaper ships in the game were dangerous even after they were “dead”; they still could warp the minds of organic life forms that stayed close to them. So, I think blowing it up maybe was the right decision after all.

Some final words on ME1 vs. ME2. Overall, ME2 had the better gameplay in my eyes, but I think I liked the ME1 story a bit better. I loved the political machinations that seemed to go on in the background in ME1. Talking with the council on several occasions, seeing how the different representatives and non-council ambassadors interacted, how they tried to move around blame and praise – I really liked that. I had the feeling I got a glimpse of interstellar and interracial politics. ME2 had me, for the most part, interact with some shady human supremacy group leader, and I learned very little about what other races and their representatives thought of that. I’d really love to see the focus more on the Council and different racial groups in ME3 again. I personally would also prefer a smaller team, and get richer interactions with each of the members instead. I understand that the large team probably is supposed to increase replayability, but I realized I’m not a replayer in this kind of game. I make my decisions the first time I play through and stick with them. If I’m curious about a decision, I might read up about the other path in a walkthrough afterwards. But I have no real interest in playing the game a second time, just to create an evil badass Shepard and see what the results are. Maybe I’m different from the average Bioware gamer in that respect?

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