Saturday, April 30

Cool

Mass Effect 1.9

I haven't finished Mass Effect 2 yet, but I've played enough of it to form an opinion:

It's a damn good game.

There are some changes I'd rather they hadn't made - stripping out the inventory system rather than fixing it, removing two thirds of the skill tree, the galaxy-wide technology downgrade, the omnigel thing, the tragic loss of the Mako.*

The game and the story it tells are somewhat uneven, and feel disjointed at times, but when it's good it's very good indeed.  The settings are generally more varied and more effectively used than in the original - the spaceship interiors in the new game are so much better than before that there's really no comparison.  And the combat, once you've adapted to it and stopped getting shot all the time, is fast and fun.

How does it stack up against the original?  I can compare a few aspects:

Environments: Mass Effect has a few environments that were extremely well done - Eden Prime being a good example - but also a lot of dull concrete bunkers.  Mass Effect 2 matches it in awesome moments but delivers them more consistently.  Definite edge to the sequel here.**

Combat: Where Mass Effect is a shooter, Mass Effect 2 is specifically a cover shooter.  Enemies in the new game have insane fire rates and unlimited ammo, and your armour and shields won't stop them from turning you into hamburger if you get caught in the open.  Both combat systems work well, but the difference is jarring at first.  I've had a lot of fun with combat in both games; but in Mass Effect 2 incendiary rounds can actually set things on fire, so it automatically gets my vote here.

Vehicles: Mass Effect has the Mako, a six-wheeled all-terrain vehicle made out of rubber and concentrated awesome.  It has GPS, radar, a detailed engineering console, and four-level telescopic zoom on both the main cannon and the machine gun.  It can climb a 60° slope and survive a fall down a mountain with only minor damage to the paintwork.  There's nothing like taking out a geth sniper by blowing it 30 feet into the air and setting it on fire, or scooting backwards away from a thresher maw while taking alternate shots with cannon and machine gun.  Mass Effect 2 has the Hammerhead, a flying tank that can neither fly nor tank, and both sounds and handles like a soup can in a washing machine.  When it's a relief to get out and walk, you know your vehicle has a problem.  Original game all the way here.

Story: Since I haven't finished the sequel yet, I can't say for sure, but the story of the original seems both deeper and more focused.  There's a sense at times with Mass Effect 2 that you're just going through the motions, playing through a series of set pieces that, while individually excellent, don't really form a coherent whole.  The original was greater than the sum of its parts, but I get the feeling sometimes that the sequel is less.  So far, edge to the original.

Equipment: In the original, you carried four weapons: sniper rifle at your left shoulder, assault rifle at the right, a compact shotgun at the small of your back, and a pistol at your hip.  All characters had access to all the weapons, though non-combatants were generally hopeless with anything but a shotgun at point-blank range.  You also had grenades for when the enemy decided to hole up behind a wall.  The sequel adds a heavy weapon to the mix, which is all a bit much, and you can't choose not to carry one of the weapons just because you never use it.*** 

The original had far more diferent weapons and armour options, and far more upgrades, but in the sequel the different weapons are more distinct - the machine gun is not just an improved assault rifle; it sounds and handles completely differently.  On the other hand, in the original you could get a better weapon that was just plain better; if you had the cash you didn't always have to trade off between firepower and accuracy.  By the end of the game I could basically fire non-stop and on-target; of course, by the end of the game I was facing heavy turrets and giant alien robots that could kill me with two shots if I was lucky (and one if I wasn't) so being able to whittle away at their armour and shields with steady small-arms fire didn't remove the need to run and hide.

In the original, all the weapons were railguns, firing tiny hypervelocity rounds and effectively providing infinite ammo, but having a constant overheating problem, requiring short careful bursts of fire to prevent a meltdown.  The sequel has ammo clips - it calls them "thermal" clips and claims they're used to cool the weapon down, but that's just a lie.  They're ammo clips, and they make no sense given the technology established in the first game.  And where in the first game after wiping out a squad of baddies you could loot the corpses and take their weapons, the sequel has you running around after every battle looking for dropped clips.

Oh, and where in the original special types of ammo (armour piercing, incendiary, explosive and such) were clips that you could find or buy and fit to specific weapons, in the sequel they're character skills.  Which works great as long as you never ever think about it.  Original game wins here.

Characters and Continuity:  Hmm.  Let's see.  In the original, the Citadel Council were democrats a bunch of arrogant jerks who couldn't see past the ends of their noses (and two of them didn't have noses) and threatened the entire galaxy through their idiocy.  In the sequel after you have they act exactly the same.  In the original, Cerberus are a bunch of smug, arrrogant, criminally insane lunatics out to destroy the galaxy in the name of saving mankind.  They're also not terribly bright.  In the sequel they're just the same, only now

Of your original team, only two rejoin you as permanent crew members, though all who survived the original game do show up at various points.  One nice touch in the continuity between the two games - and there's four different possible outcomes, and the sequel adapts appropriately.

I played through the original game almost exclusively using Ashley and either Liara or Tali, as the mission required.  If you needed a tech for a mission, you needed a tech, and that was the end of it.  In the sequel, you don't need techs, though they can be useful.  That does mean that you can choose pretty much anyone for any mission, at least once you've progressed into the game a bit and everyone's at a decent level.  I really like Kasumi, the thief from the Stolen Memories expansion; her ability to sneak up behind people and shoot them in the head is even better than a sniper.

I think the characters are actually better characterised in Mass Effect 2, but I'm not so convinced that they're better characters.  I much prefer characters who are in over their heads but do their best to get the job done to ones who are hyper-competent but complain all the time.

You know, I think that's actually a key difference - in the original game, at all times you felt that you were in over your head.  Every time you thought you had an angle on things, they shifted and grew more complex and more dangerous.  I'm not getting that feeling from Mass Effect 2.  Compare Liara the archaeologist from Mass Effect to Liara the information broker from Mass Effect 2.  That's what I'm talking about.

Anyway, edge here goes to the original.

Number of Crew Lost: Mass Effect:    Mass Effect 2:       No question, Shepard I ran a tighter ship than Shepard II.

Ending: In Mass Effect, running the spoiler down the spoiler past all the spoilers firing at me, through the spoiler and into the spoiler where it crashed into a wall and left a flaming wreck was completely awesome, and then I got to save the galaxy.  The ending was entirely satisfying, and I sat and watched the credits all the way through, the way I do when I've seen a particularly great movie and don't want to leave the cinema just yet.  Haven't finished Mass Effect 2 yet, so we'll see.

While Dragon Age II was a train wreck and no sort of sequel to its inspired predecessor, Mass Effect 2 is a solid and very enjoyable, albeit imperfect, followup to a very good game.  The third part of the Mass Effect trilogy is due at the end of the year, and I'm definitely looking forward to that.  There's a Dragon Age III due out at some point too, but I doubt I'll be buying that one at all.

Oh, and both games are set to spawn anime OVAs.  I predict that they will be awful, but I'm willing to be surprised there.

* In a lovely touch, one of the expansion modules allows you to find your original Mako and hold a memorial service.  Another module gives a nod to the omnigel thing.

** I was disappointed with the interior of one of the derelict ships you visit the first time I played that particular mission.  However, when I came to go back and replay it (for reasons I won't go into, because they involve spoilers) I realised that the scenery I'd been looking at - the boring catwalks and dull banks of machinery - was stuff that had been installed by the human research team, and that if you looked around a bit more you could see the weird alien architecture behind it all.

*** Actually, in the section I'm currently playing through, I've had reason to use all five of the weapons I'm carrying.  But that's partly because I put away the machine gun because it's too inaccurate - and too noisy when playing late at night.  The machine gun is the second-best weapon for any combat situation, but it does have a huge amount of ammo and lets you bull your way through most fights by sheer weight of metal.

**** Well, I did.  I wonder how it plays if you make a different choice there.

***** In the original, at one critical moment you went and stole .  If you had any sense, this is the first thing you'd do in the sequel too.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at 06:53 AM | Comments (4) | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
Post contains 994 words, total size 12 kb.

1 Most of your points I would either agree with or simply acknowledge we don't see eye-to-eye - but the Vehicles section leaves me wondering if we were playing the same games.  From my experiences (with the XBox versions), I find myself about 180o from you.

Combat in the Mako is a chore due to the lack of an actual gunsight.  Sure, there's a pip in the center of the screen, but that doesn't show where you're aiming - it just shows where the center of the screen is.  After the first couple of play-throughs, I actually found it easier to park, step out and take down whatever enemies there were with a sniper rifle.  The hit-or-miss tracking for the Hammerhead's missiles is frustrating, but the sheer volume you can throw downrange often overcomes that.

It's a bit eerie how much your description for the Hammerhead's handling fits my feelings toward the Mako's.  The latter's ability to claw up a 75o slope was offset by the tendency to bounce three feet in the air every time you hit a rock larger than a softball - and more often than not come down with the nose pointed in a random direction.   I don't recall ever having much of a problem getting the Hammerhead to go where I wanted it to go, certainly not to the same level I experience with the Mako.

None of which is to say the Hammerhead is without its flaws, or will be everyone's cup of tea.  But at the very least it has the saving grace of being entirely optional.   If you don't enjoy the missions it's used in, you can simply ignore them.  If you don't care for the Mako, tough luck - you're going to be slogging through a driving section on every.  Single.  Planet.  Much as I love the first game, even after a dozen times through, that jumped-up moon buggy won't ever be anything but a headache to me.

Posted by: Tagmec at Saturday, April 30 2011 10:13 AM (bJVHJ)

2 I miss the Mako, too - to paraphrase something I read somewhere, "the Mako will get you there - you might be upside down and on fire, but you'll get there".  (I also played the PC versions, not the console, but ME seemed to be designed for PC, unlike ME2 which seems to assume you only have a few buttons and a pointing device available)

Posted by: Hypozeuxis at Saturday, April 30 2011 12:15 PM (5eWak)

3 Do not complain to us about your MAKO defying natural laws and proper physics. Physics is for the weak. You are not weak. You are strong.

       Mass Effect t-shirt

Tagmec, I'm playing on a PC, and that likely accounts for some of the difference.  The Mako handles very nicely using keyboard and mouse, and aiming the cannon is a breeze even while driving backwards at speed (and it definitely has a proper sight for me).  As you say, it would bounce into the air or simply lose traction at inconvenient moments, but this is all reasonable given that it has a partial anti-gravity field, which is stated in-game as how it can withstand being dropped from the Normandy.

Also, you can enter and exit the Mako at will, repair it, and save the game while you're driving.  It's part of the game, while the Hammerhead is, as you note, purely optional.

Maybe the Hammerhead handles better with a game controller, but I simply could not avoid bouncing it off every possible surface - and given that you're alternating flying through canyons and playing Frogger on a lava flow, that's a lot.  (Would have been nice if it had said somewhere that it was J to jump, too.)

Even the taxi in the (spoiler) mission handled better.  Actually, the taxi in the (spoiler) mission was great; zooming about through construction sites and mid-air traffic jams was incredibly fun.  If the Hammerhead had been that taxi with a gun, I would have loved it. 

There's actually a Mako vs. Hammerhead thread going on in the Bioware forums right this minute.  Big difference of opinion between those who love the Mako and those who are wrong. wink

Posted by: Pixy Misa at Saturday, April 30 2011 02:46 PM (PiXy!)

4 I was just doing some reading after completing ME2, and one of the things I found was that the controls for the Mako were indeed changed between the Xbox 360 version and the PC version.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at Monday, May 02 2011 01:58 AM (PiXy!)

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