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

Gaming: Second Coming – Mass Effect Part III

This is the final of my 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) and part two here (covering galaxy exploration and interface, general interface and mingames) or read on for part three:

Geth

7) Checkpoints and Autosaves

Image sources: Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2

(I couldn’t really get a suitable picture so I went with Geth instead)

This maybe doesn’t seem like such a big deal compared to some of the subjects so far but when a game gets this wrong it can be incredibly frustrating as you’re forced to replay huge chunks of a game over and over. As I mentioned in my recent post about Mass Effect it really did have poor checkpoints and autosaves, mostly because every area would only have one, right at the start. Land on a sidequest world and the game autosaves, and then you could spend twenty minutes driving around in the Mako to explore the area, enter a building, fight through a couple of rooms, get killed near the end and be put all the way back to when you first landed on the planet. Main story worlds were not much better, forcing you to replay huge chunks if you’d forgotten to save recently, and which happened to me quite often because I’m so used to games  taking care of such things for me nowadays.

Mass Effect 2 completely fixes this issue. Area transitions always trigger an autosave, as they should, and the game also autosaves before every big fight. At most I’ve lost a couple of minutes to a death, always being put back to just before whichever fight it was that killed me rather than having to slog through multiple areas and battles I’ve already beaten and don’t need to face again.

Verdict: Success

Now Loading

8) Technical Issues and Loading Times

Image sources: Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2

I summed up Mass Effect‘s technical issues fairly succinctly just over a month ago:

Something I’d forgotten about was just how choppy the game ran on 360. In addition to the texture pop-up common to early Unreal Engine 3 games the framerate was incredibly inconsistent, dropping heavily while running around the Citadel area or even pausing while it loaded. Installing the game to the hard drive makes a big difference, an option which wasn’t available back then so the game clearly wasn’t deliberately optimised for it. It’s a game that released solely for the Xbox 360 in 2007, but without an install it runs like a rough port.

The loading times in the game weren’t necessarily that long but received a lot of mocking because of how Bioware tried to disguise them. Most locations were separated by elevator rides that loaded in the new area while you were travelling, which at times meant spending upwards of a minute locked in place while nothing much happened, and installing to the hard drive didn’t help because the elevator lengths were hardcoded. For some reason the elevator rides often felt more intrusive that a regular loading screen of equal length, possibly because it still looked you were supposed to be in control but could actually do nothing (in that sense it’s similar to the ravings of the Gravemind in Halo 3, which slowed you down and felt more invasive than a regular cutscene would have).

Mass Effect 2 has none of the same issues. Elevator rides are pretty much gone and regular loading screens put in their place, and as they don’t seem much shorter it seems Bioware agree that it was the presentation of the loading that was causing a lot of the complaints. So far I’ve only seen one major instance of texture pop-in (where a creature was on screen in low detail and it took a few seconds for the more detailed textures to appear) and a single pause of a couple of seconds to load in an area. Granted, it just means Mass Effect 2 is now up to the level that any game should be these days rather than being a technical marvel, but it is at least a step in the right direction.

Verdict: Success

Choices

9) Morality

Image sources: Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2

Whether games should actually have morality systems at all is something for debate, seeing as it requires somebody putting everything into terms of good or bad (and once you’ve decided which kind of playthrough you’re doing essentially removes any choice). Mass Effect‘s version was notable in that it didn’t have a single bar that moved in different directions depending on whether you were good or bad, instead having two separate bars for  Paragon and Renegade that filled up depending on your actions and never depleted. They weren’t always clear-cut choices between good and evil as much as they were choices between playing by the rules or doing whatever felt necessary for the greater good. That was how things worked in theory, at least, though the renegade choices often fell into ‘grumpy racist’ territory more than anything else.

Mass Effect 2 again improves things here, with renegade options fitting a lot better into the kind of no-nonsense badass character the playstyle is supposed to support. The big addition is interrupts, which come in paragon or renegade forms and let you interrupt the conversation to do something non-verbal. In the case of renegade interrupts (which are the only ones I’ve done so far on this playthrough) it means lots of opportunities for punching, shooting and otherwise getting your point across without having to wait to deliver an insult or telegraph your intentions to attack through conversation. It’s a seemingly small addition that makes a big difference.

Verdict: Success

After that constant stream of successes it probably won’t come a surprise when I say that I think Mass Effect 2 is a resounding success at fixing all of Mass Effect‘s major technical and game issues. Everything that didn’t work has been improved or removed entirely, and where they’ve been replaced the replacements are at worst simply not bad, at best being big improvements. That’s not everything that goes into making a Bioware RPG though – story, writing and overall structure are all other major elements – so it doesn’t necessarily mean the game is going to get everything right, especially when some of these improvements have all but streamlined a lot of the RPG elements right out of the game. However, it won’t be until I’ve finished the game that I can share my thoughts on those.

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