Pointless Nonsense

Posted in video games by Bill on November 21, 2013

me2Mass Effect 2 is a big improvement over Mass Effect, which is surprising both because I enjoyed the first one quite a bit and because the games are very similar. But I’m liking the story just as much, the characters considerably more, and the gameplay is much improved. I’m enjoying this game way too much, so this goes on way too long.

It fixes a few of my gripes from the first game:

  • The galaxy map has a better interface. You don’t have to navigate through four layers of level of detail, only to forget the name of the place you wanted to go, then have to escape back out to look in your journal to refresh your memory. It’s all on a single map, and it’s annotated with quest info. And you can hit Esc from almost any screen to return to the ship. Definitely a big improvement.
  • Shopping is much better. In ME1, you had to have a conversation with a merchant, tell him you want to shop, sometimes say what kind of item you want (standard, non-human armor, etc), then you could buy stuff. And then if you wanted two different kinds of items, you had to escape out and start the conversation all over again. It looks like ME2 has no way to sell stuff, though, which is weird.

They changed some things in weird directions though:

  • You don’t seem to get experience for killing things. Just quests and completing interactions with people, I think. If you do get exp. for killing stuff, it’s unclear how much. At the end of a mission they just give you a bunch of it and tell you whether you leveled up or not.
  • You acquire weapons and armor but you can only equip them when you get to a weapon or armor changing station. And weapons don’t even display stats of any kind. I just get two paragraph descriptions of stuff, some of which say clearly that it is an improvement over some other specific model, but telling you weapon A is better than weapon B tells you nothing about whether to use weapon A or weapon C. They do give you stats for armor pieces, at least (but no summary of the stats for your whole armor, which is weird). And then one weapon totally lies. I’m actually using it, even though it says it can’t be used by a human.
  • When you’ve landed somewhere and then returned to your ship, you can no longer walk back out the airlock to the place you docked. This actually makes some story sense (you take a shuttle most places now) but is annoying that if you want to return you have to go through the docking animation all over again.
  • There is in general a lot less tinkering. The weapon and armor choices are much more limited, and you have a much narrower skill tree. You only get I think 6 skills total for your character and 5 for your teammates. And each level up grants 2 points to spend, but each level in a skill costs more (1 point for level 1, 2 points for level 2, etc), so lots of times you level up and don’t improve on anything, just saving your points for later.
  • There is an upgrade system where you acquire tech to research but you need raw materials to actually get the upgrade benefits. You get a little bit of the resources during missions, but the bulk comes from exploring planets and scanning them. It’s nice that the ME1 system of exploring planets and finding heavy metals and stuff now has a purpose beyond completing quests that are basically irrelevant, but the scanning process is incredibly tedious. Like not even a little bit enjoyable, you just hold the right mouse button and move the mouse around until a meter spikes and then you click the left button to launch a probe. And repeat over and over and over again. You don’t seem to get more than a few thousand from the richest deposits on a single probe launch, and upgrades can cost as much as 50,000. So you spend a lot of boring time doing this crap.

It’s just incredibly weird to have a game with RPG elements where you can’t sell the stuff you pick up and you get no experience for killing stuff.

Easily my biggest complaint is the way EA forced the handling of the “digital deluxe edition” on Steam. When you first launch the game, you’re shown three key codes to input. But there’s nowhere in the game to input them. And no real explanation of what to do with these keys. The actual process is to register an EA origin account, hunt around the website until you find the places* to enter them, then download a series of executables (I think there are like 10 total?) and run them. Then launch the game and log in with your EA Origin account. Annoyingly, I like the game enough that I’m considering picking up two more expansions (the Shadow Broker one and there’s a character I don’t have) which will mean using the stupid origin/”bioware social” page some more. Which will cost 1360 “bioware points” or something. I guess that’s $17, because 1.25 cents is a really intelligent currency unit to use. Even better, it doesn’t look like I can purchase 1360 in a single transaction. I can buy 560, 800, or 1600, with no bulk discount at all. So they are dickishly trying to get me to go “aw fuck it” and spend $3 extra so I don’t have to enter all my payment info twice. And there’s no way I’m paying extra because of their dirty tricks so I will let them waste my time like a bunch of assholes.

* – Yes places. Two of the keys are registered on one page, the third on another, which is why I got about 10 hours into the game before Geebs mentioned I might not have gotten all the stuff I should have and found the place to put the third key in to get what turned out to be the majority of the extra stuff from the deluxe edition.

The character import process is a little bit clunky, but you only have to do it once so it’s not that big of a deal. Apparently I could have changed all sorts of stuff like my class when I imported, but I just assumed I was taking the whole character. I might have picked a female Shepard (because I didn’t like the male voice actor in the first one, but he definitely is better in the second) or a different class (because I didn’t want to get monotonous with playing Vanguard all the time, but the combat is quite different so it’s fine).

And the resulting story elements based on your choices in the previous game are kind of neat. They figure out a way to make them close enough to the core plot that they seem important, but not so different that the game becomes fragmented and you’re missing out on content by having chosen one thing over another. At first, given some of the “choose who lives or dies” options at the end of ME1, I assumed that keeping those choices in play would mean they’d have to record a ton of redundant dialogue, but they actually keep all the characters that may have died only tangentially related to the plot of ME2. Which I assume will also come up in the transition to ME3. But at some point that would get exceedingly complicated, so I’m guessing if they continue the franchise they’ll have to skip ahead a generation or have a new main character or something.

The major changes in gameplay are in combat, the number of teammates you acquire, and the presence of loyalty missions. And all of them increase the variety in the way you play the game.

ME1 had unlimited ammo and no real incentive to change which teammates you bring with you on a mission, so you could use the same weapon and same squad, once you found something that worked, for basically the whole game. ME2 has limited ammo, to the point that in most longer fights you will absolutely run out of ammo for your preferred weapon at some point, so you need to be comfortable using at least one other. And you end up able to recruit about 10 people to your team, all of which have specific missions where you have to bring that person on your team. Successfully completing their mission unlocks a new ability and an alternate costume (new costume get!), and you can research an upgrade that will let your Shepard have one of your teammate’s special abilities. Which you can change later as you acquire more teammates’ abilities, but you can only have one at a time. But I will totally be doing all of them, so that means every member of my team will be used at least once. And their missions are generally pretty long, so you get a good feel for what they’re like on your team.

A little bit of spoilers to follow:

Currently I’m playing with Miranda and Jack. Which is really redundant, since Jack and I use a lot of the same skills, we all frequently use pistols and SMGs, and only Miranda has any Tech abilities. I’m sure switching to Mordin or Garrus would let me eat through armor and shields much faster than I do at present. But I’m more interested in characters I like than actual combat efficiency. Miranda is there mostly because Yvonne Strahovski’s Aussie accent is hot. But I like her character ok, though I am never really going to trust Cerberus. Jack is a total contradiction for me, since initially I was all excited for Mordin because I liked his pragmatism and his tech powers were a good compliment to me and Miranda who should have the biotic end of things covered, but then I found out his history with the genophage and decided he wasn’t a good enough guy to join me. But then I recruited Jack and she was completely badass in the mission where I recruited her, plus I am weirdly partial to foul-mouthed ladies, so I have totally ignored her moral failings. But I kind of also want to use Thane because he is also really badass in the mission you recruit him. Who is also not a great match for me and Miranda or Jack. And I’d really be ok with anyone else but Jacob, who is boring. I was just recently deciding where to go next, and I saw “help Jacob” on the map and thought “who the hell is Jacob?” even though he’s been on my team from the beginning. There are a few characters I don’t have yet, so maybe I will get someone who I like and who can be the right complement to my team.

I appear to have accidentally initiated romance with Miranda. I have no idea if I’m locked in to that or not, or if someone else comes along I can change my mind or whatever. And I am constantly sexually harassing my secretary, which should give me Renegade points for being an asshole, but for some reason doesn’t. It’s strange how in the first game, I was always afraid I’d screwed something up, and in this one it feels like I’m doing the romance dialogue stuff with practically every female character.

The voice cast is again good, with Martin Sheen, the aforementioned Yvonne Strahovski, Michael Dorn, and Col. Tigh from BSG joining the folks like Keith David and Seth Green from the first one.


One Response

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  1. geebs said, on November 21, 2013 at 10:59 pm

    Yeah, I’d definitely recommend getting Shadow Broker and Stolen Memory. They’re definitely worth the money, particularly if you’re gonna eventually play 3.

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