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by Ethos

Mass Effect 2 Review – Reach and Flexibility

Monday, February 8th, 2010

mass-effect-2-box-artLIKED:
-The continued conversation tree excellence
-Improved sidequests, graphics, and combat
-Way better crew beside Shepard
-Exploration to places only heard of in ME1

DISLIKED:
-Watered down Citadel and RPG mechanics
-Lack of dune buggy and crew interaction

I’ve already been relatively thorough with my thoughts on Mass Effect 2. The highly anticipated ambitious space opera by Bioware does side-quests, graphics, characters, and menus better than the original while taking away the fun dune-buggy thing and toning down the expansive and beautiful Citadel. Combat and RPG mechanics are streamlined at the small cost of feeling a little watered down.

So with all that summed up, what else is necessary to say about this middle chapter? Well, just that, really. Mass Effect 2 is the middle chapter of a trilogy, and as such it carries the necessary glories and burdens. Since the first game did the difficult job of introducing the expansive universe, the sequel could focus on fleshing out the world and characters. Consequently, missions were more intriguing since they didn’t have to worry as much about set-up, and big decisions were a lot bigger because I actually cared about the characters. To be perfectly frank, I didn’t really care who I left to die on that planet in the first game. Kaiden was boring and Ashley’s a bitch, so I was a little apathetic about the whole ordeal. However, there were moments in Mass Effect 2 that knocked me on my ass and I literally stressed over what I should chose while staring at the screen.

Still, while these decisions were very involved and the revelations made during the main plot were intriguing, I couldn’t help but feel like all the biggest answers were being held back for the conclusion. It was a little unsatisfying to know absolutely nothing more about an important character like the Illusive Man at the end of the adventure than I did when I first talked to him. Also, just as The Empire Strikes Back ends with dread and excitement looming at the adventure ahead and thus doesn’t feel concluded, Mass Effect 2 has the same issue. I do appreciate that the ending wasn’t dragged out, but it just didn’t have the same significance and sense of urgency and wonder as making it to Ilos and then taking down Sovereign.

Fear the Justicar

Fear the Justicar

But, to make up for the fact that Mass Effect 2 is almost a side-story to save humanity before the exact same impeding doom from the original takes over again for the conclusion, the game makes things far more personal. I have a feeling that finally taking down the Reapers will be more satisfying now that Shepard, Joker, and the old and new crew have been through so much more together. It was also nice to see Shepard making decisions while on a different sort of leash than that of the council’s, it made the story a lot less political which was an almost necessary change.

Final Thoughts
What’s important is that Bioware has delivered on improving the most complained about issues about the original Mass Effect while beefing up the adventure and giving a mostly new and much better cast to boot. I personally miss driving around in that stupid little dune buggy, the massive citadel to explore, the awesome end credits music, and the sense of wonder that accompanied the original, but the improvements are worth losing those things without question. The Mass Effect series is still way ahead of the curve with scripting, voice acting, and combining an incredibly epic yet entirely interactive adventure and Mass Effect 2 is the definitive proof of that. I have confidence in Bioware’s ability to bring the best of the first two with the conclusion that I’m already drooling for.

Mass Effect 2

Mass Effect 2: The First 6 Days

Sunday, January 31st, 2010

A little ironic that on a theme week when I play the titular game for way more hours than I usually would, I write the least about it.

Well I suppose that laziness begets laziness, and when I have a week off, I tend to do less than when I have to work. But oh well, I did play a fuckload of Mass Effect 2, so let me talk about that.

Mass Effect 2 just continues to do what it does best. It’s absolutely staggering how many conversation options there are and how consistently good the voice acting is. Conversations are still cinematic, choices are still surprising and occasionally very difficult, and the story is still character driven and intriguing. But because this isn’t a review, I’m going to go over what I think has been improved and what I’m sorry to see gone.

This chick might not be wearing much, but she's such a badass

This chick might not be wearing much, but she's a sexy badass

The Good
Yes, everybody, the side quests are no longer the same two buildings barely re-skinned. Each sidequest has a unique and sometimes even captivating backstory and they all take place in varied locations. There are no longer menus to absolutely struggle against. There is a streamlined upgrade system and weapons and armor are far simpler to navigate through. Now that there are more weapons, there is also ammo. There’s a bit of a stretch of an explanation as to why it is that way now, but I think it’s a preferred mechanic to the old overheating method. Bioware engineered a believable and exciting way to bring Shepard into a new adventure without the exact same dynamics as last time. You’re not working for the council, even if you decided to spare them, and you have a largely new team. And although it’s easy to miss some of the classic characters, the new members are all excellent and often deeper and more interesting than the original cast.

Exploring is far more rewarding and far less convoluted than before as well. Each system will give you a percentage so you don’t have to unnecessarily backtrack to countless systems to find everything. There’s also a mining system that plays directly into the upgrade system, so it’s actually meaningful to explore and search for resources. There are more changes in that area as well, but they’re minor so I won’t go into detail, but they’re all improvements in my eyes. Finally, it’s cool to see choices make a difference from the first game and see how other decisions will affect the 3rd title. Bioware is delivering on its promise of making a unique experience for every individual. There are also some plot points that have genuinely surprised me in the best way possible. The sequel also marks the introduction of a few mini games and a few really cool arena battles.

WAY more interesting than Kaiden.

WAY more interesting than Kaiden.

The Not So Good
While the streamlined upgrade and ability system is largely a great thing, it can also feel a bit watered down when compared to the original. I liked micromanaging all my powers as an adept and now I’m basically just playing Gears of War in battle while tossing in the occasional mass effect power. It might just be me, but I feel like I have fewer options when leveling up as well. Also, that tank thing is gone. I know a lot of people didn’t like it, but I thought it was great. It was a good way of breaking up the gameplay, and I loved taking down Geth Colossus with the little thing. The side-quest planets might be far more interesting, but I would still have liked to see a little bit of that buggy exploration make a return.

But, easily most disappointing of all is the complete nerfing of the Citadel. I adored the Citadel in the first game. I would go back all the time and search every corner. It just seemed so alive, and there was always something new. Sidequests would pop out of nowhere, and I even liked the ragged-on elevator conversations. I prefer them to a loading screen, anyway, as the secondary character banter was far more interesting than the space-age holograph images spinning around during the loading screens. Anyway, the Citadel is now just three small floors and a few shops. No C-Sec offices to explore, no presidium to admire, I haven’t even come across any Hanar that I’m able to have a conversation with yet. I’m extremely disappointed unless it drastically opens up in a part of the game that I haven’t seen that, but that looks to be highly doubtful.

Conclusion
Despite my gripes, I am entirely hooked. Uncharted 2 was an unrivaled cinematic experience. But like I’ve mentioned before, while its linear nature is necessary for the series to work, it is inherently limited. Mass Effect 2 takes cinematic prowess, great characters and voice acting, and rips the lid off. And with the graphical issues (largely) fixed, there is not a game this generation I have enjoyed more thoroughly. I’m not really a fan of the darker middle chapters to a trilogy, but Mass Effect 2 is bringing me on a hell of a ride to the inevitable conclusion. This is the reason to own a 360.

Hey! Look! Listen!

Sunday, January 31st, 2010

HeyLookListenLogo1

Yes, it’s me. And yes, it’s Sunday. I’m not going to make this a “Riddles is a Lazy Jackass Edition” because I was also one of those things. Anyway, I was feeling nostalgic and decided to check news on the Nintendo Wii for the first time in weeks and weeks, so that’s what you’re getting today. Old Nintendo news. Excited? Let’s do this.

Looks cool, sure, but also like Twilight Princess...

Looks cool, sure, but also like Twilight Princess...

Nintendo spills the beans on some e3 plans
Woo, big surprises here. Mario and Zelda. While Galaxy 2 will very likely be a blast and I’m curious to see if Nintendo can save the slow death of the console Zelda, it’s not enough to get me giddy like it used to. But although it should be expected, it’s very hilarious that Nintendo plans on spending a hefty portion of their press conference showing off the Wii Vitality Sensor. I just mentioned this on the Megaphone’s Ahoy! Podcast, but why the hell would anybody want a device for gaming that literally requires you to stay as still as possible. I believe we had all hoped this had quietly disappeared into the terrible idea ether, but Nintendo seems intent in pushing forth. Oh well, we all need a good laugh. (IGN)

Major RPGs hitting up the Wii
Hmm… I don’t know what to make of this. Xenoblade, the supposed – but not confirmed – next title in the Xenosaga series will make an exclusive appearance, and a brand new Mistwalker brainchild, The Last Story will also be exclusive to Nintendo’s confused little console. While these strike me as potentially high quality titles, The Crystal Bearers and Tales of Symphonia 2 also had my hopes up. Dragon Quest IX on the DS makes sense to me, but I don’t think epic RPGs make sense on the Wii. Or at least they absolutely haven’t yet. (IGN)

Seriously, Mistwalker? The Last Story? You’re not even trying anymore.
At least “Lost Odyssey” tried to hide the fact that its title was a Final Fantasy rip-off. It also sounded cooler. Even if the game rocks, that name never will. (See: Kingdom Hearts: Dumb Name)

Metroid: Dumb Name seems to still exist.
Just like the Wii Vitality Sensor appeared to be a gimmick to make Oprah fans happy during the e3 press conference last year, hardcore fans were beginning to think that Metroid: Other M was a stunt to stave off angry fanboys who were finally beginning to crack under Nintendo’s heavily casual new direction. But, just like Nintendo’s stupid pulse checker, the newest game with the dumbest name has popped back into the news. There’s a Japanese teaser website that, of course, says nothing, but Nintendo did say that they’re aiming for a Summer 2010 release. …also just for Japan. Anyway, I’m not a massive Metroid fan, but I’ve got a casual eye on this game. (IGN)

Harder to keep in your pocket...

Harder to keep in your pocket...

iPad not scaring Sony and Nintendo.
Or not according to Sony and Nintendo, anyway. But what else would you expect? John Koller of Sony tried to make Apple’s success their own by stating,

“Apple’s entrance into the portable gaming space has been a net positive for Sony, when people want a deeper, richer console, they start playing on a PSP.”

Nintendo President, Satoru Iwata instead went on the slightly ironic attack by simply stating,

“It was a bigger iPod Touch”

I miss the fighting. Come back to us, Nintendo. (IGN)

Anyway, that’s that. Better than nothing, right? No? Piss off.

My Turn

Sunday, January 31st, 2010

Riddles give his side, and mine is even more pathetic, so instead of excuses, I’m going to write a Hey! Look! Listen! and Mass Effect 2 impressions tonight before February clutches us all with its frigid hateful fists. Yes I know. I’m too good to all of you.

...since I wrote any substantial content...

...since I wrote any substantial content...

My Life, People…

Saturday, January 30th, 2010

My, what a Mass Effect 2 Week it has been!

Sigh. Pardon the dark sarcasm. This week began with promise and then it just had to go and get weird.

I’m actually referring more to my personal week than the week here at Riddlethos, but the above sentence applies to both. My week went something like this:

1. Mass Effect 2 claimed my soul. For two days after its release, I did nothing but play the game – and man is it good. So good that I never got around to writing about it – as you can see.

2. I Worked All Day Thursday. It’s true. Riddlethos doesn’t pay me. A small, independently owned restaurant in South Nashville pays me. Like any job, it has its ups and downs. Last Thursday was definitely a down.

3. Middle Tennessee is Hit with a Freak Snowstorm. Nope, not making it up. Out of the blue, we were smacked with five to six inches of snow. And guess who drove to work in it on Friday night? (Well, I technically carpooled with some friends.) A 56-mile roundtrip in a snowstorm is not my idea of fun. Or safe. And we didn’t get any business last night anyway.

4. I’m Snowed In. Well, kinda. The roads are shit and my restaurant was nice enough to close for the evening. I’ve spent most of today shooting the shit with a certain Mike Babasick, who was unlucky enough to get stuck at my apartment with me for most of the day.

5. Now I’m Alone. Mike is gone, and nobody is here to accompany me on this snowy evening. Therefore, I believe now is an excellent time to re-acquaint myself with Mass Effect 2. And who knows, maybe I’ll get around to writing something about it. I certainly don’t have much better to do at the moment.

IMPORTANT UPDATE

Friday, January 29th, 2010

Mass Effect 2 still kicks ass.

More to come.

Scatter Storming. Issue #017 “Mass Effected”

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

ss017Yes, I really look like that right now and for the past 30 hours or so. It’s because of Mass Effect 2, and since that’s all I have to talk about, let’s get to it.

Time Travel -
It’s like it’s a year ago. It’s like nothing has changed. I loaded up the game and played it absolutely nonstop until it was 8 in the morning. It’s just like I’m playing the first one again, I’m completely drawn into the entire world. And unlike my recent gameplay habits, Mass Effect has a way of making me do almost everything. I do side missions, I talk to everybody a billion times, I scan planets, I even listen to hours of codec entries. I just can’t stop. There’s always something I want to do, and everything interests me so much that I don’t mind taking my time with the main mission. Hence why I looked at the time and it was not even 10pm and I thought to myself, “I have plenty of time to catch the re-airing of the new Scrubs at 11pm and go to the convenience store before it closes at midnight. I also have an hour of slack on the Scrubs episode because my tv’s on pause and has an hour’s worth of local memory. Just one mission will do WAIT HOW DID TWO HOURS PASS I BARELY BLINKED?!?!”. Then it was 8am and I finally went to bed.

The Empire Strikes Back -
Although The Empire Strikes back tends to be a fan favourite, it’s my least favourite of the original trilogy, so I was tentative about Mass Effect 2. And although it is darker and a little more rogue, I’m enjoying it greatly. It’s keeping enough of the same elements to be familiar and not lose its charm, but the tone is different enough for it really to feel like a new adventure. But speaking of…

What about the conclusion? -
What will they do with the third game? This game comes up with an extravagant but ultimately believable way of pushing the setting forward two years and resetting Shepard’s crew. I just don’t understand how Bioware could pull that off for the expected third installment. But maybe when I beat the game, the ending will give me a clue.

I WANT TO PLAY! –
Yeah, I’m going to go the route of Riddles and cut this short to play more. But expect more Mass Effect 2 love from us, and at this rate, we both may even complete the game before the week is up. Riddles is especially likely since he’s not smelling the roses in the same way I am.

That’s it! I have more to say about the game, obviously, I didn’t even touch the battle system, but I’ll leave that to some more formal impressions. For now, suck it!

Hey! Look! Listen!

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

HLLfinal

Hello, and welcome to this Fuck You edition of Hey! Look! Listen!

Confused? Well, let me explain: a Fuck You edition is a rare phenomenon that occurs when two specific (and entirely unrelated) events take place in the same window of time:

1. A game as addictive as Mass Effect 2 is released.

2. The gaming industry fails to generate sufficient topics of interest.

Why the FUCK should I care that Nintendo’s luddite president said “no, thank you” to Natal technology some years ago?

And seriously, who gives a shit if Fable III will be shown off at the X10 event in San Francisco next month? (Other than Shawn Cooper, of course.)

And finally, why is everyone freaking out about Mass Effect 2’s Cerberus Network being down? Do you REALLY need that little piece of DLC to enjoy the game? The answer is no, no you do not – I know, because I’ve already played five hours without it.

Now, on the other hand, The New Yorker’s “Modern Mickey” article – in which they poke fun at the upcoming Epic Mickey game for the Wii – is well worth reading. I wouldn’t really call it “news,” but it’s the only thing that caught my eye today. So, generous chap that I am, allow me to provide you with this link. Read it and laugh.

Alternatively, you could just chuckle softly. I’m pretty sure that’s what I did.

And that, my friends, was a Fuck You edition of Hey! Look! Listen! In a final act of fuck-you-ness, I’m off to buy a pizza and play ridiculous amounts of Mass Effect 2. LATERS!

Welcome to Mass Effect 2 Week

Monday, January 25th, 2010

Mass Effect 2Y’know, I honestly wasn’t the biggest fan of the original Mass Effect. I enjoyed it, yes; enough to finish the game, at least. But I just didn’t fall in love with it like most of the world did.

I think my problem was misguided expectations. Reviews for the original Mass Effect made it sound like the game  was some of kind of masterpiece in videogame literature. So, fool that I was, I went into the game with that expectation.

Suffice to say, the game didn’t quite live up. This is largely due to the fact that the plot flatlines about a third of the way through the game, and doesn’t pick back up until the very end. The way you interacted with the story – via the dialog wheel – was pretty novel and intuitive. But the storyline itself? Nah. Enjoyable overall, but bland for most of the game.

So, seeing that I wasn’t amazed with Mass Effect, it’s funny that I’m so excited for the impending sequel.

Here’s why: the original Mass Effect wasn’t about telling an epic, involved Space Opera. (See Xenosaga to fit that bill). The original Mass Effect exists to establish the rich universe and mythology that BioWare has created for the series. There’s a lot – and I do mean a lot – to the Mass Effect universe.

And now that we’ve become familiar with it, Mass Effect 2 is here to kick things off for real. The stage is already set, we already have a general feel for the world and how things work – I could go on. The point is that the introductions are over and done with, and it’s time for shit to start happening.

Oh, and the changes they’ve made to the combat system should be nice as well.

This is all pure speculation, of course. However, the truth or falsity of it should soon be revealed; I’ll be picking the game up in eight hours or so.

‘Till then, readers!

It’s getting close…

Monday, January 25th, 2010

Gamestop called yesterday to confirm that my Collector’s Edition of Mass Effect 2 will be available for pick-up 10am tomorrow morning. I have the week off, everything seems fine, right?

Obviously it’s not. Not only am I using loaner internet because mine decided to only come back for a day before packing its bags again, but a cheque I deposited 6 business days ago still hasn’t cleared. I need that cheque to purchase said Mass Effect 2. I usually put all the money down on a pre-order and I usually deposit cheques in person to get the money instantly. I suppose I understand why I do that now. Anyway…I’m nervous…
sorry-no-internet-today-1