Home > Features (Gaming), Gaming, Opinions (Gaming) > Gaming: Second Coming – Mass Effect Part I

Gaming: Second Coming – Mass Effect Part I

While you rarely get a second chance to make a first impression it is still possible to really turn things around with a sequel (Assassin’s Creed is a good example, having turned a relatively disappointing début into a critical and commercial success with Assassin’s Creed 2). With some time to go before I’m finished with Mass Effect 2 and ready to put up a final opinion post about it I’ve decided to do a direct comparison of what I feel didn’t work in the original game and what Bioware have done to try and fix that in the sequel (so essentially it will be like my Bioshock 2 opinion piece unintentionally ended up as).

So far Mass Effect 2 feels very much like most sequels these days, directly building upon its predecessor’s technology and re-using or tweaking existing assets while attempting to iron out the flaws (the other type of sequel being something along the lines of Bioshock Infinite, preserving core concepts while being far removed from the original game), so how many of these improvements were successful? This comparison will be broken down into sections and, thanks to my general inability to keep things brief, will be split across three separate posts rather than one huge one.


1) Combat

Image sources: Mass Effect 1 and Mass Effect 2

As I mentioned in my brief post about completing Mass Effect again I didn’t find the combat in the original game to be anything more than okay. Using a different team with more variety definitely helped but it was still nothing more than a basic third-person shooter, lacking the balance and design of something like a Gears of War or Uncharted (games focused around third-person shooting) as well as not having anything like the strategy and depth of a classic Fallout or Baldur’s Gate (games focused around strategic, pause-heavy combat).

While my preference would be for the games to move further towards a deep, turn-based system with lots of tactics and larger battles (being able to use more of your team at once) that’s not a goal Bioware has for the series, trying as they are to find a middle ground between RPG fans and shooter fans that provides a game both can enjoy. Mass Effect 2 pushes heavily towards the shooter end, and right from the first time you fire your weapon its immediately apparent that they’ve beefed things up there, making gunfire sound punchier and having chunks of health being blasted from the health bar in a way that feels more damaging.

The cover system has been tweaked so that it more closely resembles Gears of War, using a button to enter cover and stay there. Each party member (including Shepard) has fewer abilities than in the original game but each one that’s still there has more use, as well as a final upgrade that can change it into one of two new forms. I’ve found that the AI uses their abilities more effectively now, possibly because there are less of them, and have turned AI power usage back on (in the first game I maintained control of all AI offensive abilities). The general layout of each combat area seems much improved as well, a lot closer to that of the third-person shooters I mentioned above, even if it’s not quite there yet. The game also apes those shooters by scrapping the overheating mechanic of the original and going with a more conventional ammo system, the game’s codex making sure to explain that it’s actually just a different system of heat management rather than a big technological step backwards.

Combat is the area that feels like it has been most overhauled compared to the original (it was also the area that most needed it), and I would say that Mass Effect 2‘s combat is now that of a decent third-person shooter, which is a big step up from Mass Effect.

Verdict: Success

Sidequest Integration

2) Sidequest Integration

Image sources: Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2

Mass Effect followed the traditional (and affectionately mocked) Bioware pattern: An introductory sequence that introduces the game’s major conflict, some sort of imminent threat that absolutely needs to be stopped to save the land/world/galaxy, and then an open section that lets you go wherever you want and complete all kinds of sidequests that will be utterly irrelevant should the Big Bad win. In the grand scheme of things most of the sidequests would be considered a bit of a waste of time, something that could easily wait until after you’ve saved the day if it wasn’t for the fact that the game ends when you complete the main quest (and earning all the gear, money and experience after winning doesn’t make much sense).

I wouldn’t want to lose the freedom to explore because that’s something I love about RPGs, but with Mass Effect 2 Bioware have found a good alternative that makes the sidequests fit a little more naturally into things. Upon completing the introductory sequence you’re tasked with assembling a team for what could well turn out to be a suicide mission, and while it seems like you need to recruit all of them (the next plot mission only triggers once you do so) you’re free to choose the order or potter about the galaxy and explore. Some locations (like the Omega space station) have multiple characters to recruit, and while you’re there other brief quests will pop up naturally and are mostly dealt with locally rather than have you popping over to the other side of the galaxy.

Each squad member also has an optional loyalty quest, some task they’re eager to see completed before you go off on your final mission. These work as well because of the potentially suicidal nature of the main quest, making them something each person wants to get done just in case, rather than something that could easily wait until later. Overall the sidequests just feel like a much more natural fit within the game rather than things to pad out the length or work through for experience.

Verdict: Success


Sidequest Level Design

3) Sidequest Level Design

Image Sources: Mass Effect (possible spoilers) and Mass Effect 2 (possible spoilers)

The sidequest locations in the original game had two major issues when it came to level design. As I seem to mention every time I talk about Mass Effect, the outside areas in the Mako were hopelessly generic stretches of lumpy terrain, exactly the kind of thing you would get from playing around for five minutes with an elevation tool in a map making program. So far there has been no equivalent section in Mass Effect 2, they’re just gone entirely. I find that very welcome.

The other issue was with the interiors for the sidequests, all of which took place in maybe four different maps: A big structure, a smaller structure, a ship or a mine. While there was some justification for this within the setting (it’s not hard to imagine there’s a corporation that specialises in pumping out a couple of designs of buildings for setting up colonies) it made the locations dull, with variations of crate placement and the occasional locked door being the only sources of variety. Mass Effect 2‘s locations all feel individually designed, like something the developers actually put proper thought into and designed around the quest, rather than just taking a quest and dumping into an existing map.

Verdict: Success

Click here for Part II.

  1. December 3, 2010 at 15:34

    Quite enjoyed this article. It was interesting to hear your views what didn’t work in the original Mass Effect. For me Mass Effect was the better game except in one area, it’s no longer an RPG. Mass Effect 2 is more of an action-adventure/shooter now with it’s RPG elements radically stripped down.

    Wolfs Gaming Blog, Home of everything Xbox 360

    • December 9, 2010 at 00:21

      The original Mass Effect felt like it wanted to be a shooter but just wasn’t able to pull it off, and I recall some reviewers felt they had no choice but to treat it as a clunky shooter simply because that’s how the majority of it played. That’s pretty much how I approached that side of it, with every ‘game’ part of it – combat, exploration, ability and item management – feeling like it needed major polish, while the narrative elements – story, writing, acting, lore – were all excellent. I like the game but it has a lot of rough parts.

      So far Mass Effect 2 seems to improve upon all of those rough bits, bringing it up into something that is genuinely a great game to play in addition to being a great setting to take in. Bioware really have streamlined a lot of the RPG aspects out of it and have maybe gone a little too far with that, but that just means that at worst it’s a shooter with unparalleled depth, length and writing when compared to the actual shooters released this year.

      So despite RPGs being my favourite genre I’m not sure it matters so much whether Mass Effect 2 is technically a deep, narrative-heavy shooter or a light, combat-focused RPG. It’s a great game.

      • December 12, 2010 at 14:46

        Agreed, it’s still a great game but I’d certainly like to see them bring back the deeper RPG elements for the (just announced) release of Mass Effect 3.

  1. December 8, 2010 at 23:01
  2. December 19, 2010 at 15:23

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