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

Gaming: Second Coming – Mass Effect Part II

This is the second of a three-part series of posts looking at the improvements Bioware have attempted to make between the first two Mass Effect games. You can read the first part here, which covers combat, sidequest integration and sidequest level design, or read on for part two:

Galaxy Exploration & Interface

4) Galaxy Exploration & Interface

Image Sources: Mass Effect 1 and Mass Effect 2

In Mass Effect the galaxy map was essentially an elaborate menu. The overview showed every cluster you knew about and clicking on one would go down a level to show every system you knew about within that cluster, while clicking on a  system would take you inside to see the planets. To explore and scan most planets you clicked on them and, if there was something there, clicked a button to retrieve it (the same button would get you to land on the planet when that was an option instead). It wasn’t very involving but it did what it needed to, although some of the buttons didn’t do exactly what you would expect and it was easy to accidentally cancel out of the entire interface by mistake, and outside of the main quest planets tracking down which ones you needed to visit for each sidequest was cumbersome (you can read an in-depth breakdown of the galaxy map’s problems on Game Design Reviews).

On the surface it doesn’t seem like the galaxy map has been changed much for Mass Effect 2. Everywhere is labelled now with which quest requires you to go there, a minor change that makes a big difference, but otherwise it still looks much the same. However, inside a system you have control of a little Normandy (the ship Shepard commands) and manually move it around the system from planet to planet. Functionally it’s little different to the cursor of the original game but it feels that little bit more involving. Moving between systems within a cluster again has you directly controlling the little Normandy as you travel, using fuel in the process. Fuel seems like a fairly useless addition so far, requiring you to pop back to whichever system has the refuelling station to top up instead of just moving freely from cluster to cluster (each trip uses about half your fuel). It’s within the galaxy map that Mass Effect 2 has accommodated what used to be handled by the Mako: exploring a planet, but I’ll get to that in the Minigames section below.

Mostly then the galaxy map, which was already pretty functional, has been tweaked but not massively overhauled, with a minor bit of pointlessness introduced with the fuel mechanic.

Verdict: Mostly a success, but the fuel mechanic just isn’t necessary.


General Interface

5) General Interface

Image sources: Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2

To get a full account of the flaws of Mass Effect’s interface you’d do well to read the exhaustive analysis of Game Design Reviews. Its issues were numerous (at least on the Xbox 360, as I understand the PC version had some changes made), with inconsistent icons, a lack of necessary info when needed, functions that used different buttons on different menus, and generally not being close to as usable as an interface should be in a 2007 release. The inventory screen in particular (and item management in general) was a real chore, not being fun or even providing the basic level of satisfaction that should come from upgrading to better equipment.

Mass Effect 2‘s biggest change is that there is no inventory screen now. New weapons are acquired just by finding one of them in the field, upon which everybody who can use it is able to. Sometimes you find research plans instead but after spending the required resources to research them they are also available to everybody who can use them. You don’t pick up new armour either, with Shepard able to customise many individual pieces of her armour (which are mostly bought) to provide different stat bonuses, while the non-player characters you recruit have one fixed outfit (with alternates available as unlockables). As well as doing away with awkward inventory management this has the advantage of making every character more visually distinct rather than all being equipped in identikit and fairly unattractive armour.

The overall interface is also a lot more informative. As well as the extra journal information mentioned in the Galaxy Exploration & Interface section above the game does a better job informing you of everything that happens. Any update to your journal or codex, any XP, money, resources or paragon/renegade points gained and any schematics or items acquired are all communicated to you through an on-screen pop-up that either tells you all you need to know or, in the case of longer journal or codex entries, at least gives you a brief snippet.

With most of Mass Effect’s more awkward interface elements streamlined out and big improvements made to the clarity and availability of information, interacting with menus in the sequel does feel like it is in fact a recent release rather than something full of wrinkles that most other games had smoothed out decades ago.

Verdict: Success



6) Minigames

Image sources: Mass Effect, Mass Effect 2 hacking, bypassing and scanning

Mass Effect on Xbox 360 only really had one minigame, the much loathed QuickTime Event, where you had to press buttons on the controller quickly after seeing the corresponding prompt on screen (the top left section of the image above). That was how you hacked, scanned, surveyed and otherwise interacted with pretty much anything that couldn’t just be shot or talked to, provided you had somebody in your party with the necessary skill level to do so.

QTEs are gone from the sequel and in their place are three separate minigames. Hacking requires searching a wall of scrolling, unreadable text for the correct block of code, assembling three blocks into a sequence while avoiding damaged sections that will lock you out. Bypassing systems brings up a circuit board arrangement with eight nodes, each of which must be matched to its corresponding node (essentially an icon matching game). The latter minigame is rather basic but they do what they need to well enough, making you feel like you’re involved in the process with just enough challenge to make failure a possibility.

The third minigame is for scanning planets and mining. Most of the planets you look at on the Galaxy Map can be scanned, which has you moving the cursor around the planet and looking for spikes on the scanner or waiting for the controller vibration. Once you’ve found an area rich in resources you launch a probe and continue scanning for the next until you deplete the planet (or until you grow bored, which is a definite possibility if you do too much scanning in one session and have yet to buy certain ship upgrades). While it’s less truly interactive than driving around a small section of the surface of a planet in the Mako it is more involving than the ultimate QTE you had to perform to survey it, and as I disliked the Mako sequences I consider it a net gain.

As with the fuel I mentioned earlier (again back up in the Galaxy Exploration & Interface section), scanning a planet requires a resource, probes. To start with you can only have thirty on the Normandy at any one time and have to restock, which means heading back to whichever system within the cluster has the fuel depot (burning fuel in the process). It just seems like a fairly pointless bit of back and forth and I’m not sure exactly what purpose it’s supposed to serve. Something to spend money on? Something to break up the monotony of planet scanning? Whatever the thinking was behind it I would not have missed the presence of fuel and probes if Bioware had scrapped them and would be surprised if they made it into Mass Effect 3.

Verdict: Mostly a success, with probes being somewhat pointless.

Part III is here.


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