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Analysis:  Mass Effect 2 's Surprising Genre Experiment
Analysis: Mass Effect 2's Surprising Genre Experiment Exclusive
January 29, 2010 | By Chris Remo

January 29, 2010 | By Chris Remo
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More: Console/PC, Exclusive



[Gamasutra's Chris Remo analyzes the surprisingly comprehensive changes made to BioWare's much-awaited sequel Mass Effect 2, wondering if it'll serve as "template... or genre experiment" to games that follow.]

As I played the first few hours of Mass Effect 2, I found myself constantly surprised -- not by the early twist which allows for a clean break between the plot of Mass Effect and its sequel, but by how much of the game had been heavily redesigned.

Having now completed the game, I find myself wondering whether BioWare has managed to codify a genre whose relative rarity I have often found odd: the action-game-with-classes-and-dialogue, to coin a clumsy phrase.

Nearly every major player-exposed gameplay system from the first game was considerably tweaked or completely redesigned by the BioWare development team, and nearly all of these changes work to streamline or simplify the game's overall flow and system management.

The original Mass Effect was described as an action-RPG hybrid, thanks in large part to the inspiration it drew from the currently very fashionable third-person cover shooter genre. Mass Effect 2 moves much farther in the action direction.

The Big Changes

It's worth listing Mass Effect 2's noticeably altered mechanics, because direct sequels released two years later are rarely overhauled this comprehensively. They include the following: experience point gain and leveling, skill trees, mission resolution, combat and cover, squad combat control, equipment management, weapon upgrades, squadmate weapon choices, interplanetary travel, clothing and armor customization, hacking and decryption mini-games, resource management, minor planet exploration, and probably more.

In some cases, systems were effectively removed, such as the standalone inventory system and grenades. And in the PC version of the game, even many of the default key mappings were changed (I don't have an Xbox 360 version handy to compare).

But it's not just the up-front systems that have been altered. The game's mission structure is now much more discretely demarcated. Quests (both main quests and most side quests) are more clearly initiated, and they even end with a "Mission Complete" review screen.

Largely gone are the tapestries of overlapping and often interconnected minor quests set throughout the first game's enormous Citadel (there's no comparably rich and populated location in this game), and at least during my playthrough I came across nothing like the snaking bureaucracy- and law enforcement-tinged quest line of Mass Effect's Noveria.

In the first game, experience points were littered all around the world, conferred for examining items and locations and completing small standalone quest lines. It was possible to level Shepard up a fair amount by simply exploring. Now, that's almost all been relegated to missions, which tend to be open-and-shut affairs consisting mainly of extended linear action sequences punctuated by conversation. As a result, while the action parts play much better, I was less invested from a personal perspective.

As a player I thus felt slightly less important to the events of Mass Effect 2 (particularly since the broad plot of "Shepard is part of a covert organization and must save the galaxy from an enigmatic evil" was basically carbon copied, with a different covert organization and a sort-of-different enigmatic evil), but the game did absolutely pay off in spades the effort made to enable character transfers from the first game, with many decision-dependent callbacks.

Playability And 'Critic-Proofing'

That fundamental approach, overlaid with the game's many streamlined mechanics, makes Mass Effect 2 move much more briskly. It's a macro pacing adjustment that's furthered by action game allusions like the new quick time event-inspired mid-conversation interjection of altruistic or aggressive actions. Ostensibly, that offers more opportunities for players to distinguish their experiences, but it's hard for me to imagine many people being able to resist punching it in when the prompt is flashing on screen.

There's also no need to comb through an overcrowded inventory, meticulously swapping weapons, armor, and upgrades around. Once a mission has begun, it tends to be a straight shot to the end, particularly since BioWare managed to eliminate most mid-mission loading times. Experience points aren't conferred until the mission is complete, so there's no sudden pause to browse through the squad screen.

Nearly every upgradable piece of equipment applies to the squad as a whole; only the player character has configurable armor; and weapon swapping is almost irrelevant anyway, since nearly every gun is just a directly-upgraded version of another gun of its category. It solves Mass Effect's problem of deluging the player with hundreds of nearly-identical items by putting all the characters on much more class-defined and automated paths, with many fewer skills to upgrade.

In a recent Gamasutra interview, BioWare's Adrien Cho said the team "wanted to make sure that absolutely every issue [critics and players] brought up was addressed." In that light, the changes make sense; almost all of them result in less hassle. They also decrease the player's input in how the game is played, at least after the initial class selection.

So are these systemic changes good or bad, on balance? It depends on what you liked (or didn't) about the first game. If Mass Effect was a sci-fi shooter saddled with excess RPG micromanagement, Mass Effect 2 is the ideal evolution. If Mass Effect was an RPG that tips its hat to third-person action games, Mass Effect 2 may be less satisfying than expected.

Genre Distinctions

There is still, however, a focus on character conversation that, in keeping with BioWare's design ethic, is far more pervasive than any straight-ahead action game would ever maintain. That's why, even though I fall on the side of those who would have preferred Mass Effect 2 to patch up its micromanagement rather than largely discard it, and to retain the often mundane but charming urban side quests, the game remains a fascinating -- and I think ultimately successful -- experiment in genre.

It's all the more fascinating that this game was spearheaded by a sister team to the group that made Dragon Age: Origins, one of the most consciously intricate and mechanically complex mainstream RPGs to surface in quite some time.

(It isn't as though every change to Mass Effect 2 points in the same direction; the player character's armor is enjoyably customizable to a much greater degree than in the first game, even as that capability is removed entirely from party members. And while I initially liked the planet-scanning resource-collecting minigame as one of the game's few mechanical nods to eggheaded Space Race-era sci-fi, it soon became realistically mind-numbing.)

These genre distinctions are surely irrelevant to many players; if a game is fun, it doesn't necessarily matter how to describe its genre. But although genre cross-pollination is common, most game designs are still driven by heavily codified boundaries.

I've long wondered why there seems to be a requirement in game design that including copious amounts of player-driven dialogue must necessarily be accompanied by traditional RPG systems or the fading puzzle mechanics of graphic adventure games. In some parallel universe, a slightly different Mass Effect 2 wasn't the result of a gradual reduction of RPG systems from an action-RPG, it was the result of continual layering of accomplished dialogue systems and a class system onto a shooter.

Taking The 'RPG' Out Of RPGs?

I haven't played Final Fantasy XIII, but as far as I can tell from my colleague Christian Nutt's analysis, BioWare and Square Enix both seem interested in stripping a bit of the RPG out of their RPGs -- but they're doing it in almost entirely different ways that speak to the traditional distillations of their regional genre conventions.

Now, I find myself curious not only about where BioWare will go with Mass Effect 3 -- now that BioWare has both justified the cross-game continuity of player choice and planted clear signposts about its design evolution for this series -- but whether any other developers will follow in these footsteps. There are plenty of action games with character level systems and upgradable weapons with systems nearly as detailed as Mass Effect 2's, but there are effectively none with such a well-integrated, player-affected, and content-heavy dialogue layer.

It's easy to imagine why. In an age of increasingly costly content creation, there's no real need for developers of shooters, which get along just fine without lots of dialogue and classes, to bolt on so many extra costs. That's why we're in this universe, where Mass Effect 2 is the result of RPG heritage, and not the other way around.

New trends are always driven by initial success, and critical reception suggests Mass Effect 2 is resonating strongly. Still, The Sims is one of the most successful game designs of all time, and there have barely even been attempts to duplicate it. So will Mass Effect 2 serve as the template for the class-based single-player action game with dynamic narrative? Or will it stand as a genre experiment unto itself?


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Comments


Bart Stewart
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I'm only a few hours into ME2, so it's difficult to take off my gamer hat and put on my objective analyst hat.



That said, I'm also finding myself in the camp that feels too much of the RPG element was excised in the sequel compared to the original Mass Effect. My understanding was that things would be tweaked and improved. I even appreciate that some changes might need to be more significant in order to align all the pieces into a coherent whole experience. The thing is, so many of the mechanics for defining the abilities of the game's characters were deleted that I feel more like I'm watching a movie and less like I'm playing a game. ME2 seems to offer fewer meaningful choices in how to experience the action... and that's not what I was hoping for.



(This includes the armor/weapon mod system, whose problems in the original game seemed mostly caused by having to scale the UI for console-driven TV screens -- see http://gamedesignreviews.com/reviews/mass-effect-interface-fail/ . How did deleting this form of player agency, rather than better organizing it, improve the sequel?)



I find myself comparing Mass Effect 2 with System Shock 2. The latter game was also essentially a shooter melded with an RPG. It also had weapons and "biotic" abilities and hacking, whose effects were driven by player choices. But SS2 managed to retain plenty of RPG-style choices for players to make without skimping on the shooter elements (SS2's "crouch/lean" feature might be considered an analog to ME2's "cover" feature) -- so why could an older game like SS2 do what ME2 doesn't attempt?



The one major structural difference between these two games is the use of NPCs and what they deliver. System Shock 2 had none; it had only monsters to shoot, ghosts to watch, and audio logs of dead crew members to listen to. The Mass Effect games, and the second even more so, feature a large number of NPCs with significant amounts of interactive dialog, as well as supporting characters who have their own stories to explore. In a way, the Mass Effect games build on a triad of core features: shooter, RPG, and character-driven story.



In Mass Effect 2, what we appear to be seeing is BioWare experimenting with how much weight to give each of these three core features. Based on what I've seen so far, maybe it's no longer accurate to call ME2 a shooter with elements of a roleplaying game. Given the increased emphasis in this game on dialog-driven interaction over abilities tweaking, maybe a better way to describe Mass Effect 2 would be as a shooter fused with a "character-playing game."



If so, then the first question for me is whether the final game of the trilogy will see the restoration of RPG-style ability choices to match the polish level of the shooter and character elements... or if ME3 will continue down the path from ME to ME2 by eliminating character-defining ability choices altogether in favor of more FPS mechanics and more NPCs with dialog and stories.



As for other games from other developers, I suspect that Dragon Age: Origins, with its abilities system apparently cloned from any MMORPG, is what will be mindlessly copied for the next five years, rather than Mass Effect's formula.

Kevin Cardoza
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"In an age of increasingly costly content creation, there's no real need for developers of shooters, which get along just fine without lots of dialogue and classes, to bolt on so many extra costs. That's why we're in this universe, where Mass Effect 2 is the result of RPG heritage, and not the other way around."



Definetly. When people complain about BioWare's (and Bethesda's) reliance on DLC, I think you also need to take into account that they're willing to take on the extra design, writing and voice acting costs to make tons of content that the majority of their audience probably will never see. It's actually quite risky when you stop and think about it, especially when making a completely linear 8-hour experience has as good or a better chance of mainstream sales.

Daniel Felice
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Good article. I miss a lot of the RPG elements, but it's still a riveting game.

Lo Pan
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I wonder if the addition of more action over RPG, seen in Uncharted 2 and Assassins Creed 2, is a concession to the COD:MW2 crowd. Trying to entice these players with more combat and less complication.

Jonathan Gilmore
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It's funny though, because as Mass Effect takes away rpg elements, COD adds them to the multiplayer.

Adam Flutie
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I'm not very far in yet, but all I have to say is the clip system sucks. That alone has tainted the game enough for me to wish they created the first one again, minus the graphics problems.

Chris Melby
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I'm really enjoying this game, I really like that it's much harder than the first -- I'm playing on insanity -- and I like some of the changes they made to system exploration, but like others, I feel that this so called "streamlining" was not for the better.



What good was removing the inventory system, when half way through a mission, I encountered one of their "streamlined" weapon lockers? It was completely out of place. And on this locker, it was so overly simplified, I wasn't even sure how to use it at first, because I thought it was just a way to look at what weapons my characters had equipped.



The missions and the game have become very linear and what bothers me even more are the achievements. They've become overly annoying, why can't I turn off this garbage off?



I really hope that developers are done drinking the Gears of War juice, it's already messed up Resident Evil 5 and it has definitely had a negative impact on this game -- but sells will probably speak otherwise, then we'll all be screwed.



I just hope that with 3, the pendulum swings a little bit back towards the RPG side and removes the mission closure screens, which are best left for arcade games or run and guns, not a game like ME.



One last gripe, there's no scroll-wheel support and no double click support in ME2. I hope they patch this laziness.



Anyways, still an enjoyable game, but now I have more gripes than I had with the first ME on PC.

John McMahon
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I'm playing it on my Xbox 360, ME was the first 360 game I bought, while Gears of War was the first I played, hey I had to play something while I waited two months for ME.



So far I enjoy it heavily, but there are a few minor gripes. Basic User Interface issues that I'm surprised weren't caught or tested.



I do have to say, that while I dislike the concept of the ammo for the "basically unlimited ammo" of the weapons. If they had just kept the overheating aspect of the previous game, but instead of waiting for it to cool down (when it overheats) you could pop out a clip and continue shooting.



That's how I imagined it prior to playing it. It's not a bad system, it's just that ammo is scarce. I understand the need to limit the ammo of the heavy weapons. But the game doesn't do well enough to supply ammo from the bodies of enemies nor have I ever picked any ammo up (aside from the heavy weapons version) from crates.



Not to mention after a battle with ammo littering the ground, if I save my game and then come back by loading it up. The ammo that was there when I saved is gone form the ground. The game just does not track the ammo objects, but continues as though the player has enough.



Now in truth I only run out of ammo of one weapon during any particular mission, but that weapon is my favorite and class-specific. The pistol. It's accurate and does a solid amount of damage to armor. But the ammo capacity is too little.



Now instead of scavenging for armor or guns after a battle (which they didn't have in the first game due to the automatic additions to the inventory during battle), I'm searching for ammo. How is that better? You removed the need for that in the first game, but in the second game you include a system that causes the same issue?



It's a fun game and I'm not nearly done. But I think BioWare should be more open with the community with how to resolved issues and whether the solutions proposed may work well.

Chris Remo
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Chris Melby,



For what it's worth, I've found Mass Effect 2 to be far easier than the first game. I played both on normal difficulty. Sometimes, difficulties I had in Mass Effect were down to design missteps, but there were often times when I had to carefully direct my squad while playing as an Infiltrator. In Mass Effect 2, again playing as an Infiltrator, I've been struck by how easy it's been in comparison. I hardly ever feel the need to issue commands to my squad or manage them in any way, and it feels like I can essentially "solo" my way through the game. That isn't a complaint per se, but it was surprising to me.

Tim Randall
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It sounds as though anything that got in the way of making a slick mainstream-friendly story-driven shooter went by the wayside. I find that rather upsetting, as an RPG fan who was willing to forgive Mass Effect its minor sins (e.g. not knowing what the #@&% was in my inventory, and the Weeble-car exploration missions). Don't get me wrong, I like a strong story with good character interaction, but at this rate the third installment in the series may be an on-rails shooter with conversation minigames between levels.

Lo Pan
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@Adam, agree on the clip system..I never have enough ammo.



I am playing on Veteran and it is a decent challenge. I do agree the planet scanning is tedious. Does anyone even scan the poles?

Chris Melby
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Chris Remo,



That's how I felt about ME, where as it was just me solo and the squad was something I put in the background.



I'm still getting that in ME2, but it's not as bad on Insanity. I need them to take down shields and so on, especially with ammo being limited. I also need them to get the fire off me, because I noticed that the AI always attacks me first, even if it's not their objective. This was really apparent when I had to save Archangel, both Krogans completely ignored him when I was in the same area and only gunned for me.



I played ME on Hard my first play through, then Veteran twice (long ramble) and I rarely died. Saren was the easiest boss I had encountered since the end boss on Zelda: The Minis Cap. With the pistol on Marksman, I was unstoppable. :)



Anyways, with ME2 on insanity, the game is really kicking my arse in "points" and that makes me happy. I'm not done yet, so I hope that it doesn't become to easy as I get my characters and weapons leveled.



This and Dragon Age, which I completed through on Nightmare(I even killed Gaxkang, the High Dragon, and so on.) are the hardest games outside of multi-player that I've played in some time.



Anyways, give the game a try on Insanity to see if it's any different. I stopped choosing the lower settings a few years back, when I noticed that the developers were optimizing the gameplay for gamepads, which in turn made the game too easy for a mouse.

Jason Bakker
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Hey Chris,



It's interesting that you bring the subject of dialog-heavy non-RPGs up, because it's something that I've been experimenting with in Shadow Field. I'm working on finding a way to implement some dynamic story elements into a tower defense-type game.



It is odd that RPG gameplay tends to be linked with dynamic or player-driven stories. I guess both systems are born from a developer's desire to emulate reality in some way, as opposed to the action game design mentality of simply "make it as fun as possible". But as ME2 illustrates, there's a lot of opportunity to inject dynamic, meaningful stories into other forms of gameplay, and I think we'll be seeing more of it moving forward.

Chris Remo
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Jason,



Good to know; I'll keep my eye out.



I think as far as the historical connection between RPG systems and dialogue, it's not so much based on a desire to emulate reality -- after all, I think an action game where you naturally become better at using a relatively established skill set is actually much more realistic than an RPG where you are constantly learning entirely new skills out of thin air, and becoming fantastically more powerful at using them on a regular basis. (That's not a knock on RPGs -- I enjoy both gameplay models myself.)



Rather, it's more based on the developer's assumption that the player will accepting of some level of simulation or decision-making. If the player is willing to invest some time deciding how a character's skill tree will play out over time, he's probably willing to invest some time listening to dialogue and having some impact on how low-level narrative events will play out; and vice-versa.



You can't necessarily make that assumption if you're the designer of an action game. Obviously, since almost the earliest days of the first-person shooter there have been games like System Shock that do introduce more systemic elements into a genre that is traditionally at the low level more about instinctual and reactive choice than longer-term or slower-paced RPG choice. There were also System Shock 2, Deus Ex, BioShock, et al, but for the most part those games inject the player character-based progression mechanics of RPGs much moreso than the dialogue mechanics -- perhaps because an FPS revolves so heavily around the player character?



Anyway, curious to see what you come up with!

Bart Stewart
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As another perspective on this, the conjunction of rich dialogue/story gameplay opportunities with RPG character-building seems to me much more natural than joining either of those things with shooting and/or looting gameplay.



That's probably because I come at this from a psychological direction, which suggests that a (maybe *the*) core personality trait is whether a person prefers to see the world in terms of concrete, external, tangible things, or naturally perceives reality more in terms of abstract, internal phenomena.



Following that model, a shooter -- especially if it also features loot-accumulation -- is going to be easier to create or enjoy by someone who naturally tends to see the world in terms of objects to be manipulated or collected than a game about puzzles or personal relationships. Interacting in direct and simple ways with representations of physical objects is exactly the kind of gameplay we'd reasonably expect to see implemented to satisfy a preference for concrete, visible, ownable things.



Similarly, a natural preference for seeing the world first in terms of what's inside -- motivations, causes, thoughts, feelings, abilities, processes, relationships -- leads to emphasizing both dialogue/story-rich choices as well as structural, systemic decisions about how to optimize a character's attributes and abilities.



What this means (if there's anything to it) is that story/character-driven games and RPGs are more similar to each other than either is to a shooter or accumulation-driven game because story and RPG play are about internals, while shooter and looter play are about externals.



In theory, then, if someone wanted to make a highly addictive game, they would design that game to focus intensely on either story-and-RPG-style interaction with internal attributes, or shooter/looter interaction with external objects, but not both. I think we've already seen games demonstrating the power of the latter combination -- what about the former?



Maybe Mass Effect 2 is feeling less satisfying for some gamers (the internals-oriented folks) because its intensification of the shooter element (although reducing the looting aspect) and reduction of the RPG element versus the original game shifts the focus away from internals (ME = story+RPG with some shooting/looting) to being a more balanced play experience (ME2 = story+shooter with some RPG).



If so, then perhaps that also tells us something about the System Shock/Deus Ex form of games that I would argue are "balanced" like ME2 across internals/externals. While critically well-received, the former games didn't make huge bank... perhaps because a balance of gameplay styles creates a deeper and more satisfying experience overall, but doesn't appeal as strongly to people (who are probably a majority of gamers) who prefer a play experience that's focused on their view of what matters most -- internals (thoughts and feelings) or externals (objects and data).



Just one more theory to throw onto the fire....

Thomas Whitfield
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I like the story, side missions, and call-backs to me ME1 character (s).



I don't mind the inventory removal (as a management thing) because the gun inventory in ME was really only valid for maybe the first 1/2 of the first play-through of ME1. The way the game worked accuracy was king (ruling out a lot of guns right off) and the Spectre guns were so much better than the rest, that the other guns really were just bulky cash. Anything other than a Spectre gun was just cash to buy more Spectre guns (with the exception of mods, biotic/tech tools, and to some extent grenade mods).



Armore inventory was pretty good in ME1 because peopel chose different things based on class and how they played (not to mention looks). Armor system in ME2 is ok, but it needs more items and should have included NPCs armor as well.



On the other hand, removal of all that gear makes the exploration/ room hunting a bit ehh. Everything is pretty much cash or med gel (with a rare upgrade from a scannable enemy body or item). maybe a bit more System / Bio shock style text on all those hackable / bypassable items would make it feel less liek going through everyone's pockets fro loose change (or as Vernor puts it "sometimes I look through boxes to get some credits.")



The planet scanning is a loser for me. At least the driving sections of ME1 were action, and there was soem fighting / involvement. The new scanning isn't even a minigame really. It is walking the beach with a metal dectector looking for quarters.



The switch up from sometimes boring, but involved Mako driving, for always boring and never character involved planet scans is probably the saddest step backwards i nthe game.





As for thermal clips. Something isn't right there. Let me explain.



They are supposed to be universal heat sinks that let you fire a lot then dump heat fast.



1.) Why can't we fire slow and never wear one out?



2.) -I have 0

-I pick up 10

-I now have 10 worth of ammo for my smg

-I also have 10 worth of ammo for my pistol (and my sniper rifle) for a total of 30 worth of use.

-All 3 guns fill independently on their own ratio from the same clips, if all 3 guns are low, they all fill from the same pickup. If one is not full, the pick-up will only fill the 1 gun the same amount as if I were filling all 3 guns (lats say 6 shots in both cases).

-If they are universal, how does this happen?

-Why can't I just have 30 wirth to do whatever?



The mechanic doesn't seem to fit the fiction.



3.) MY NPC buddies never run out, why can't I borrow some from them. Hell, why can't I bring more from the Normandy without buying a general +ammo upgrade in a store (though I do like the armor set sleeves that have ammo pouches on 1 arm and has a + ammo bonus on it). Sheppard needs more pockets.



---

I do prefer the ME2 combat system to the Dragon Age system on the 360. The fights play out a bit better by design of the combat system (DA really fells like turn based, and can be played that way on the PC... the 360 Version can get really hectic and sloppy (even with the AI scripting elements (which are great but, which you have to invest points into to get the most out of.)



Also, nearly all of DA's fights are over-designed. Not every room of bandits needs to have a line of traps, a mage, some archers + some front line troops all lined up and ready for you based on you coming in a certain door. (There are some places in the game where it really makes sense, but when you stumble across a battle between darkspawn and soldiers, the same basic setup applies. Every fight shouldn't be a gauntlet)



----



While I'll gripe a bit about some of the loss of stuff in ME2, the only thing I really actively dislike is the planet scanning, and I don't understand how a system like that could have made it through the whole dev process without anyone noticing (or doing anything about the fact) that it isn't fun while at the same time being really key to leveling your character in the new upgrade system. It could have been so many different active minigames, but is jsut sweeping a slow (or upgraded fast) cursor over a planet until you



1.) die of bordom,

2.) get all the minerals (but usually not the 2 you need).

3.) run out of probes and have to go back an buy more 6 times for a system with more than 2 planets in it... which breaks up the actual scanning just enough to make it take 3x as long to scan bigger system as you would if you had more probes.





Scanning makes me grouchy.



Also, maybe it is just me, but Wrex doesn't sound right / the same.

Jason Bakker
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Hey Chris,



Fair points! I can see what you mean by action games being more realistic than RPGs in moment to moment gameplay where you "are" the character, but recreating the realism of freedom and choice was more what I meant. The RPG level-up-to-be-better-at-something is still an attempt at simulation of reality - it just moves that element from the player to the character.



It is curious that RPG elements seemed to cross the divide far sooner than dialogue options... As a programmer, I always start thinking about time and effort, which could be the primary factor. To set up RPG-esque character leveling systems, minimal effort is expended into taking some of the player's stats (many of which will exist in the game already - turn speed, fire rate, weapon accuracy) and give them multipliers that are affected by the player as they progress.



However, when you are attempting to implement player-driven dialogue and choices, your game really needs to be designed from the ground up to handle all the different variations and situations that the player might be in at any one point. Due to the diverging/converging of the player narrative, what was once a single, clean line from the start of the game to the finish becomes a twisted braid of player experience, where each possible path needs to be thought of, designed for, and thoroughly tested.



Further illuminates the reason for Mass Effect 2's open-and-shut missions, I guess!



And thanks; I'm curious to see what I come up with too... Eh-hem.

Adam Bishop
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I think in a narrative sense, ME2 really steps up its game. The cinemas are much more skillfully made than the cinemas in the first Mass Effect, and it seems to me as though, despite the streamlining most of the game has gone through, that ME2 actually has *more* dialogue than ME1. I'm also finding that the characters are more varied and distinct, much like they were in Dragon Age.



I understand that RPGs can be difficult to get into because of all the micro-management and numbers. I'm a bit (pleasantly) surprised that Dragon Age has become as popular as it has, because it's one of the more complex RPGs I've seen in a while. But at the same time, while making RPG systems more understandable is a laudable goal, I don't think minimising them the way that's been done in this game is necessarily what's needed. Are there really any players who couldn't handle levelling up during missions? The really strange thing about the after-mission levelling is that you can still gain XP during missions, making it *seem* like you should be levelling during them.



I think the biggest negative change that's been made though is the extremely linear nature of the game's locations. While there do seem to be a lot more places in the game than ME1, and they seem to be more varied and colourful, they're also usually quite small and linear. The combat levels, in particular, just feel *too* designed. Every crate, box, and bend in the wall looks like it was placed precisely for combat. None of these places feel like real places that sentient species would actually live in. The game really does give the feeling of playing through "levels" rather than places.

Chris Remo
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Adam,



I completely agree with all your points. There is a mind-boggling amount of dialogue in ME2, an amount I suspect eclipses the original game's, and the characters are very well-defined.



And yes I agree that streamlining unnecessarily overwhelming RPG systems makes sense, but that simply removing a lot of those options from players who DO want to deal with them is not the way I would have wanted them to go.



Finally, I also agree that, in the end, the most unfortunate change to me is the linearity of the location design. Cover-driven arena rooms are incredibly obvious (I found myself running to cover upon entering one before the battle music kicked in or enemies showed up on my radar, simply because they became so recognizable) and most missions were basically corridors. There is a definite "level" feel.



I think it's even more unfortunate though that the actual hubs are so much smaller and less populated with actual minor missions and quests. Unless there were major areas I didn't uncover, it seemed like the main areas to hang around and explore were the Citadel, Omega, and the Asari city. None of them felt to me like the Citadel of the first game, my favorite location because of its vast number of optional quests, many of which could be completed in multiple ways depending on the player's angle. There were quests where you could deliver something to somebody, or kill that person, or simply bluff the original quest-giver -- to me that kind of thing is far more interesting than the lumbering "evil things are killing everyone" story.



Since, as noted earlier, there is still such a high volume of dialogue and content in the game, I suppose it was just a question of development priority, and those moments I particularly enjoyed from the first game were not the parts that resonated with most of the audience.

John McMahon
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@Arsenault, it's not that bad.



Heck, it's not even easy. As stated before, some find it hard and more challenging tactically, then just the waves of Immunity-supped up baddies the first game threw at you at the higher difficulties.



While there is nothing like the hub of the Citadel, I do love the locations. I think not only does priority of development factor in, but also the length of development. The plan has and remains to be a trilogy during one platform generation. I would love for Bioware to take 3+ years over 2 years in a rushed fashion.



Not that anything felt rushed, but there is "something missing" from the first game. The fact that the person I was romantic with in the first game barely acknowledges our relationship (Liara hugged and kissed me on Illium), and then subsequently moves all focus toward some personal mission.



When I have all the female crew members practically looking at me like candy, why should I care about my ME1 romantic partner, when she doesn't give me attention. (Gosh, I do sound like I'm taking this too seriously LOL.



About the scanning, I prefer that than driving the Mako. I realized recently, that the Mako handles more like my Shepard then the warthog. Whereas for the latter, if I push forward when the warthog is facing any direction, the warthog moves forward based on "its" perspective. Where as the Mako would moved toward the screen, whether that mean turning around or backing up depending on the relation of its direction to the direction my controller is telling it to go.



The scanning is faster, makes me feel like I'm actually discovering something versus following a path.



Aside from the relationships between teammates from ME1 (why doesn't anyone notice the 2 members from ME I do have on my team? Instead Liara and the others ignore their existence).



My main gripe would be the armor system. Nicely designed for customization, but if I didn't preorder or buy the Collector's Edition, then I'm stuck with the N7 armor. Whereas if I did get the free armor, then I can't customize them and my Shepard's face is hidden. Not to mention there are very few options for the particular sections you can choose like chest, greaves, shoulders, etc.



But the color and pattern options are great, I just wished I could get the patterns of the Blood Pack, Blue Suns, and/or the Eclipse. Even if I just stuck with the camouflage option, it seemed incomplete.



For these little things that we debate, there's no argument that ME2 handles the big picture stuff fantastically.

Christopher Wragg
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Hrm, as far as story goes, I love the development of the new characters (Mordin's moral quandary is most fascinating) and how well laid out places are (although I did miss not being able to trek about the citadel). I also love the armor customisation, I'm a little upset by the fact that there appears to be no more than 3 different versions of each type of weapon (barring heavy), and there's no way to customise each one.



I'd also have to say that I have a love/hate relationship with the new powers and shield/barrier/armor system. It is very annoying that most powers have little to no affect on protected opponents. For instance, throw becomes one of the worst powers in the game, being unable to throw anyone with any form of protection (and dealing negligible damage). In fact adepts in general have a rough time unless they run a very heavily warp oriented build (only ability that deals nice damage against all protections). Other abilities are also rendered useless, the cryo blast ability can't freeze anyone with any protection so it's extra damage that it provides is useless in most scenarios (once they're on red health life is easy anyway as all your other abilities come online).



Also while the cooldown system makes some abilities particularly spammy (throw every 1.5 secs as a sentinel with upgrades), it means that the sentinel/engineer no longer hold the same appeal (walk into a room and disable everything at once). In truth it makes every battle quite same-ish (use one move till shields down, use one move till armor down, use gun to finish), while they were wildly different before.

Fiore Iantosca
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Christopher Wragg, I completed agree with everything you said. I also liked roaming in the Mako.

sam darley
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Yeah, I don't mean this as a criticism of Mass Effect 2. I'm about half way through and it is a superb game that fully deserves the acclaim it's getting. It's just that, to me, it really doesn't feel like the Mass Effect I loved so dearly. I agree that it feels like too much of the 'RPG' was removed to streamline the experience, which I can understand and is seemingly being rewarded by the strong sales being reported. I just wonder if there might've been a way to appease both camps, by having more character traits like the first, but more options to simplify and automate this. I miss gathering and equipping weapons and armour, but can understand how this comes over as a chore to many people. As for the level design, the comment about things feeling more linear does ring true. There were sections in ME1 that felt this way too, but it does feel a lot more regimented and directed here, for better or worse.

It's a great game that's well-designed and I can't wait to explore thoroughly, but it just feels like the direction has changed and, to me at least, lost something from the first in the process.

Adam Flutie
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After reading all these comments, I guess the 'critic proofing' only worked for the stuff we hated from the last game. We can not longer complain about all the stuff ME1 did wrong and instead now get an all new list of things we can't stand with the game.



Planet scanning, ammo clips, linearity, lack of level maps, inability to back-track during a mission...



I really liked Thomas Whitfield's comments, especially with the clip system. They had the right idea, but why didn't they leave in the same overheating from the first game and just add in the fact if you overhead you have to have a more timely clip switch? They really messed with the fiction and failed dramatically.



And I can't be the only one that, as captain of my ship, wants to go to the crew quarters and get those to slackers from the table and make them do the planet scanning / retrieval for me. Such a mundane task yet assigned to the captain for some reason... Going back to the whole believable fiction this whole task just fails. Why can't I retrieve my probes along with the resources? Why did they made the fill bars max at 25,000 despite the fact there is no cap? Why after improving my scanning ability it still is too slow? It is painful to see that despite all the effort they put into the first game and now this game, the whole planet exploration aspect is still trumped by Star Control 2...

Scott Thomack
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Great article. I keep seeing this trend where companies try to really dig into the reviews and the user opinions then make a better game based on that information. I think the effort is great and I think it will 99% of the time help a better game get created. However, I also think there is an opportunity being missed.



Why do RPG elements need to be taken away. Why can't the user decide what they want to do? A toggle on an options screen perhaps or something that you can choose at the beginning during the tutorial or introduction.



Mass Effect seems like the perfect game to try this approach. Just give me a bunch of RPG setting that I can switch between manual, auto, semi-auto, main character, entire party, etc... The number of ways that these actions could be broken down is huge. This would allow people to truly tailor the game to the speed and complexity they would like to have.



Like that old saying goes "You can't please all the people all of the time" but I think if you put the options into the players hands you could please a even more people.

Samuel Wissler
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The "bad"

---------------



So far I haven't found the ammo an annoyance at all. I haven't run out of ammo... or even been that close even once on normal. However, I can definitely see how it's a problem on harder difficulties because enemy health scales up, but the ammo reserves don't.



I also agree that the mineral scanning doesn't work well. At first I was enjoying it, but it gets frustrating grinding it out planet after planet, hoping for more platinum, lol. The problem is that you just end up having to spend too much time doing it. The MAKO was the same thing. I actually enjoyed it well enough, but if you're really trying to play a complete game it requires too much time.



There's also kind of an issue with level design where it becomes super obvious when you enter an "arena" where a fight is going to happen. The lack of cover in non combat areas makes the combat areas stand out.



The only other complaint I have is that I think it's too hard to tell what your teammate health situation is until it's too late. They wanted a minimalistic UI and it mostly works except in that case.





The good

---------------



The new characters and the dialogue are amazing. The first one was good, but they really upped it in ME2. I like how the characters have alternate costumes. While customizing your party gear-wise is always nice, I like when characters have a strong aesthetic that stays consistent. I've never been happy with RPGs where my party (or the main character) end up in some sort of ridiculous clown-suit armor in an attempt to appease the demands of the game mechanics.



Losing the old inventory system was the best thing that could have happened to ME. In ME1, I only used the same 2 party members in combat, because it was easier to keep them geared up. In ME2 I feel free to rotate my 2 assistants constantly for different power combinations based on the enemy types I expect to encounter. In that way, I actually feel closer to the squad than in ME1 because I'm in action with all of them.



--------------



I'd also like to say that I don't agree with the attitude that people who don't like inventory management are somehow stupid or less sophisticated gamers. I've played my fair share of inventory heavy RPGs: from JRPGs like FF or Suikoden to sandbox games like Elder Scrolls to D&D-esque games like NWN and Dragon Age to hack and slash like Dungeon Siege to MMOs like WoW and LOTRO and EVE etc.



I play RPGs to get into the head of another character (or characters) and I find that setting/environment and characterization are infinitely more important in that respect than a deep inventory system.

Bart Stewart
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While we're on "good thing vs. bad thing," one more comment.



Playing the PC version, I find the inability to save my game just before or during fights to be incredibly frustrating. Die, suffer through the uninterruptible "death spiral" video sequence, reload, die, death spiral, reload, etc. gets extremely old when the inability to save means having to go back through multiple fights to get to the tough fight at the end of the mission.



The annoyance factor is amped up even further by the game frequently crashing just after the first use of the "give orders" action seconds into the big boss fight of a mission. If I could save just before the fight, this would be less problematic, but instead it often comes after not being able to save through several previous fights, causing me to have to go back through all those fights again.



So was the lack of a save-during-fights ability on the PC yet another "the PC has to suffer for something consoles can't do" technical issue? Or was it -- god forbid -- a conscious design choice? Either way, it leads to the opposite of fun.



On the positive side, while the Citadel of ME2 offers considerably less gameplay than its predecessor, one thing it does do is use humor to lighten up a rather grim game. There are a *lot* of funny bits scattered throughout the Citadel of ME2 for fans of BioWare games and the original Mass Effect.



I won't give away details; just back into and out of the various shops to listen to the conversations among customers. Also, listen to all the advertisement kiosks, including the one for colas in the warehouse entrance. (The reference to the old "brings your ancestors back from the dead" urban legend was a hoot.) And the Salarian game salesman, apparently modeled on the behind-the-counter staff at certain retail game emporiums, makes some clever digs at gamers and game publishers. Finally, if you liked Baldur's Gate, you absolutely must go shopping for souvenirs. :)



There are definitely bits about ME2 that are less fun for me than the original, as well as some things that still annoy me. But at least the folks working on ME2 haven't lost their senses of humor -- that goes a long way to giving this game some of the depth it needs.

John McMahon
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@Bart, the save wasn't an issue with me. yes, I played on the X360, but even before tough fights when no enemy is present I could save. Just like the first game. If no enemies are near me, I can save. So I'm not show I understand your point.



I see it as, if I saved during a fight and then went back to that save, I lose any understanding of the current tactical situation I was in, which makes for a harder time through the fight.Have you tried back pedaling to areas of previous fights to get distance?



I'm on my second playthrough. Only have 3 achievements left, Warp Specialist, Insanity, & Romance.



I am very happy with the fact that the "play complete game with X" achievements are gone. Especially since they required both Main & Side quests to complete. While they could have just left the side quest aspect out and kept them. It works the same here. But one negative aspect is, how is any of this (aside from the Insanity achievement) an "achievement"?



Good job at removing the 100 uses of X power, but even the Loyalty achievements were basically given to you if you attempted the mission regardless of Paragon or Renegade choices.



I do love the team surviving the mission achievement as someone above mentions, it deals less with external aspects of the gamer's thinking and more about thinking internally.



I got to say first time through I chose people I could live with dying cause I didn't want to lose Tali or Garrus. But I'm glad it's not as simple as "choose who's going to die".



I really think a longer development cycle would help them resolve some of these issues. (and a public beta of a strictly test scenario instead of actual content :) ).

Fiore Iantosca
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"I really think a longer development cycle would help them resolve some of these issues. (and a public beta of a strictly test scenario instead of actual content"



Ahh the ultimate CRUX of the software industry!



BioWare IMO had plenty of time. The problem is they were busy working on the daunting Dragon's Age.



But to get to your crux about longer lifecycle, it's been stated many many times.



The problems is these companies need to get the product out the door to make money. This always results in buggy(glitchy) software that feels "unfinished".



QA always loses as schedules get trimmed.



This is a complete management problem and not the developers/QA.



I REALLY wish software companies would be better abotu schedules.

Kevin Reese
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Mass Effect 2 is a great game. It deserves all those 90+ reviews it has been getting. That being said, I'm not too keen on some of the changes made -- specifically the ones reducing the RPG elements. To me, Mass Effect 2 is one step forward, one step back.



New inventory system: great, an improvement. Ammo system? I like it. I never had a problem running out of ammo yet, on Hardcore difficulty.



What do I not like? Skill system simplified. Characters were much more fun to develop in Mass Effect 1 , and there was much greater flexibility. There isn't as much you can customize in your M.E 2 characters, with less skills , and each skill having only the 4 -point cap.



The game is less RPG. Missions are very linear. As said before, it isn't so much RPG as it is Modern Warfare 2 with conversations between each battle scene. There is hardly any exploration in maps at all, and hardly any secret stuff you can find, which is sort of a staple of RPG's I'd say. All the upgrades is also extremely linear; instead of a more flexible RPG system where you might be able to pick and choose upgrades, and pursue specializations according to your interests, in M.E 2 you pretty much just click through the list of all available upgrades, buying everything in a serial progression.



For me, Mass Effect 1 combat was more satisfying. It felt more RPG and tactical compared to ME2's combat, which is more action focused (and still quite fun though, of course.) In ME 1 , each power cooled down independently, instead of ME 2 , which each power shares a cool down. This makes a big difference. In ME1 I had to plan out the battles a bit more, making more judicious use of powers. In ME2 I find I'm usually only dying if I'm getting got out of cover -- that's the only factor. I hardly ever have to control my teammates.



Also, as someone mentioned, the available guns are also very linearly dispensed. In many RPGs, you get that great buzz from finding a weapon from some out of the way place, or random encounter , that could tilt the balance in your favor. Or you find an odd weapon that might not be 'better' when it comes to numbers, but you favor any ways. In Mass Effect 2 you just go through a linear progression -- level 1 , you get this smg, level 2, this smg, etc; which sort of takes the fun out of getting new weapons. This is not the case for the armor system, which is a bit more free-form (or at least has the illusion of such.)



I dunno. I'm a bit torn here. I'm listing all these complaints with the game yet I'm still having a blast and it'll certainly be one of my fav games of the year. I just wish there wasn't that new focus on action over RPG. I'd bet money that Dragon Age Origins will be the last 'real' RPG that we will see from Bioware; just with the money involved, they are pressured now towards appealing to everyone, instead of just RPG fans.

Thomas Whitfield
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I think we are all wandering around in that difference between a 90 score and a 100 score... It is a lot more personal than the space between a 40 and a 90 ha ha.



I have a friend that didn't play ME 1, but is a huge shooter fan. he loves ME2.. he couldn't get into ME1. He doesn't get any of the callbacks, doesn't care abotu character reveals etc. These guys aren't his friends.



While a lot of us ME1 players are really have invested (literally weeks of real time) in ME1 and want to know what happened voer the last 2 years (Yeah Liara was a bit distant as someone mentioned.



We were playing with several people all in a voice chat party on XBL.. every email, every NPC lookign for a refund, every character that talked to us from ME1 really impacted our game.. Teh few i nthe chat while had no ME1 experience really didn't have the same draw to it.



I finished on one of my Paragon Characters (an engineer) last night, and I can't wait to see how different the game feels as a Renegade (the game itself and the carryover from ME1)... unfortunately, I only have 2 biotic achievements, the "bring them home alive" achievement (restarting the level brings you to squad select AFTER the first 2 roles are already filled on the 360 anyway and my last sacvegame was way back) and the insanity achievement left for XBL.



I fell I have to choose between the engineer that I just played through (imported from ME1, then again from ME2 at level 30 fro insanity) or my adept from ME1 (who is also a paragon for the rest of them).



My poor renegade character (a soldier) seems to be stuck waiting for play-through 4 because I'm an achievement whore.



I can see removing the paragon /renegade achievement.. because usually i play as a goodie and begin a baddie is kinda forced fro me... but I would have liked to see some class based ones (DA:O has them still).



---



As an afternote, the Convoluted EA system fro ME2 unlocks for the 360 arer kinda complciated and bad.



My DA stuff linked up flawlessly through my xbox, but my ME2 stuff required me to wander all over the EA site, and I ended up assigning my terminus armor and weapon to the account I created for the Star Wars MMO not the one with my XBL profile attached due to the mess of a website... I couldn't see my profile; wasn't attached to that acct. until AFTER I had already put in the code (using the directions in the email. if i had logged in a different way it would have worked ok.



My Blood Dragon armor (shared with DA) of course worked perfectly without me doing anything.



DA did all the signing up stuff way better than ME2 for Xbox users

Christopher Wragg
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Also a simple correction the guns, while presented badly (aka terribly limited choice), are NOT direct upgrades. For instance, the 2 pistols you receive early on each have their trade offs, for instance the first is reasonable damage with plenty of ammo, the other is low ammo but extremely high damage. Most guns have similar tradeoffs, for instance among assault rifles it's accuracy for fire rate, etc etc.



Ultimately I love the game it's just the rock/paper/scissors system they've introduced that i now hate. I miss the "physical damage bypasses shields" so throw can toss people around who have shields, and still deal actual damage to their health. Now it hits a shielded enemy and THEY DON'T EVEN STUMBLE, and a tiny tick comes out of their shield. Basically "throw, pull, cryo ammo/blast, shockwave, singularity" are all abilities that should just be ignored, because they're situationally useful at best, worthless at worst. I mean I could tolerate if throw did practically no damage, but still you know, knocked em over, god only knows how a vanguard or an adept is supposed to get through the game on a harder difficulty.



But yeah, I suppose if I hadn't been coloured by ME1 then these things wouldn't bug me nerely so much as they do, I just miss the tactics, the whole "how do I approach this room" feel of ME1.

Charles Jones
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Does anybody here hate the fuel mechanic as much as I do? Although I've only run out of fuel once (and that was when I wanted to see what would happen if I did), I don't think it's right to penalize the player for exploring. I just find that whole mechanic to be wholly unnecessary.



I also don't like that they removed the hidden asteroids in asteroid belts from ME1. I kind of liked stumbling upon them and getting matriarch writings or whatever. It varied the experience and was a nice surprise when I found them. I don't like how everything is so clearly laid out in ME2; I think it takes away a lot of the mystery and intrigue in exploring.



Frankly, I like that side-quests are more interesting and varied, but I hate, hate, hate what they did to exploration. At least they kept the epic galaxy map song from ME1.

Christopher Wragg
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Actually, I should stop running my mouth off, I just did a touch of research and realized what the issue is, during a veteran or higher playthrough (I selected veteran as my first playthrough) all biotics except warp and reave don't work on protected enemies (shockwave and singularity do a little to people with just armor), but if you're playing on normal or easy then feel free to rock out with your adept/sentinel/vanguard.



On harder difficulties Tech becomes the only "non boring" option (if you don't mind spamming warp for 20 hours you're good to go), as playing as one of the above effectively means just using your allies abilities. Sad really, they could have just reduced the effectiveness of abilities, rather than make them useless.

sam darley
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I think the problem with collating all the problems people have with a game and trying to improve it from that, is that people will always be more vocal about what they didn't like than what they did. Mass Effect was an RPG, so people aren't likely to proclaim praise for the way it let you improve your character's abilities or the open environments (well they will a bit, but not with the same fervour of someone offended by these traits) because they are expected and functional.

Brad Katz
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I like RPGs. I tend to like them much more than shooters. But I was lukewarm on ME1 and had a blast playing the sequel. I'm really surprised to read that Chris preferred the environments in the first game. For me, it was like an eternity of walking through some nightmarishly infinite Canadian community college. Great for fans of cinderblock, perhaps not for others. Far from being rich and detailed, they seemed sparse and poorly designed. The Citadel *is* huge, but how much of that space is really used? How much of it is worth exploring, purely as environment? It never even came together as a coherent space to navigate for me, just one anonymous, interchangeable corridor after another. But many of the areas in ME1 struck me as poorly thought out. I got turned around twice in the intro mission. This never happened in Half Life and rarely happened even in Fallout 3.



ME2 strikes me as one of the rare games that deserves its hype. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that, having beat it, I did something I never would have contemplated prior to its release: I went back and replayed ME1 so I could import the character (I did finish ME1, but did so as a male Shepard, and that guy is a big hunk of cheese. People had told me that the female option was much preferable and having played both I couldn't agree more). It made me realize that I feel no nostalgia for the first game at all. I hope BioWare does continue to make more traditional RPGs, am psyched for the Dragon Age expansion. But I think they've done something really special with ME2, and worrying about whether or not it's a "true" RPG seems maybe a little niggling beside that achievement. Maybe we just need a new genre designation.

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Max Yankov
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ME2 planet exploration system reminded me about Star Control 2. I spent literally dozens of hours exploring distant planets on various systems, and most of them contained nothing except minerals; but it worked for me, and ME2 system isn't working.

It's not about the gameplay; SC2 system is simple, too. But it was really "going where no man has gone before". There was no "codex info" about this anonymous planets, my ship was the only known human vehicle in the entire space, with no contact to the remaining earth population, and ALL outer world being my enemy.

Then again, there was a "scanning" system in EVE online. Of course, it is an MMO, with very different player motivation and overall gameplay, but, again, there was a real sense of discovery, going through the unknown.

On another hand, on Mass Effect you don't get a feeling of unknown or dangerous space. There aren't any space encounters, every planet is mapped, many of them are already mined and colonized. The only thing that is different in ME2 space travel from menu navigation is the fuel.

When you think of it, one ship so easily depleting the whole planet resources makes no f*cking sense, at all. I tried to find a codex entry that justifies it, but there's nothing about it. There are miners on the planet, working for YEARS - and then here comes Normandy and all your Palladium is belong to us.



But what I really liked about ME2 was revamp of medigel and ammo system. Changing the "required" exploration-gathered element from health to ammo really makes sence, and the "optional" unity ability from the first game really was the worst design mistake in it. Of course, universal heat sinks aren't the best solution; I think that Borderlands ammo system (with several ammo types for different kinds of weapons, with grenades working the same way - ammo apart from the upgrades) would be much better here.

But to implement it, the developers should've given much bigger role to looting and inventory, which, obviously, wasn't their goal. Personally, I'd like to see the whole Borderlands inventory and weapons systems in Mass Effect game - but it seems that Bioware decided to simplify these systems to focus the player on the story more, and I really can't blame them for it.

In the end, ME2 gets really close the "interactive movie" (not the ugly experiments of 90's, but the mental image we had inside when we first thought about them). It's like the only reason Bioware included the combat system into the game is because the good space opera isn't complete without a good gunfight. :)

Yik Boon Tan
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It's been constantly said that the RPG aspect of the game was removed or watered-down somewhat. However, I find that this is not the case upon closer analysis.



Weapons - The original Mass Effect featured tons of weapons but did not add anything meaningful to the game beyond heavy cash. Most of the time, players tend to pick the most damaging of the lot, and ended up selling the rest. Beyond the superficial renaming and reskinning, each weapon functions exactly the same way. Sure, much more choice were offered (or the illusion of it), but they weren't meaningful since players tend to pick only the best in stats. In contrast, despite being numerically lesser in ME2, each weapon feels, functions and play differently. Take for example, the second sniper you get in ME2 is semi-automatic where it shoots relatively fast. Even if the damage per shot were slower than the first sniper, its damage per second is more. I find myself using both, equipping my squad mate with the second, and the first for Shepard as I prefer single shot kill in conjunction with cloaking. Take the first two SMG you get, the first has relatively high accuracy and fair damage. The second has more rounds per clip, shoots way faster but suffers from heavy recoil. A experienced FPS gamer might prefer to use the second, aiming low at a target and spray away, the recoil adjusting the crosshair to the center of the target. This is but two examples, take any two weapons and you'll find that each of them is distinct, has its own quirks, and are both viable depending on preference and tactics. On the introduction of thermal clips, I find myself switching between different weapon types far more than in ME1, both to conserve 'ammo' and to use different weapon types against different enemy defenses (certain weapons counters certain defenses better than others) (I was playing on Insanity). The 'ammo' management aspect was a layer that I quite enjoy. Related to this is the removal of weapon proficiency skills, which I found to be a good thing. The result is that instead of relying solely on a single weapon type in ME1 (since the tendency is for player to train in a single weapon type), the game encourages players to switch between weapon types, ultimately adding nice variety and tactical depth to the combat.



Armor - again the same player behavior is prevalent here as usually only the very best armor is picked in ME1. You get tons of options that you'll never quite use. In ME2, not only customization of colors and looks of armor are offered, each armor pieces gives different stat bonus. This allows for customization according to the play style of the player. Suppose I want high survivability for my high-risk biotic-charging vanguard, I'd equip health enhancing armor pieces. Looking for a high damage sniper? Sure, take on all those damage and head shot bonus items. I'm sure there are plenty more 'builds.'



Skills - ME2's skill progression has ascending levels of point weightage, while not as much when it comes to granularity, actually encourages player to think on the type of play style they prefer. Do I want to specialize in certain skill or do I become a jack of all trades? Furthermore, the fourth tier provides further specialization via skill evolvement. The global cooldown now employed in ME2 makes sense - no longer can you spam a succession of quick-fire skills on opponents, but the added seconds calls for players to use their abilities wisely and tactically. Most of the new abilities are great additions - the likes of cloak, charge, adrenaline rush, tech armor, combat drones, shockwave, direction-based pull and throw added significant possibilities to the battlefield.



I highly suggest playing it on higher difficulty, as it is on these levels that many of the changes truly shine.

Gonzalo Daniel
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All these comments have a great deal of truth, ME2 makes huge steps forward on a lot of aspects but sadly some steps back that just leaves old ME1 players crazy.



As mentioned, planet exploration is bad, its not even a minigame, it even feels way worse than grinding 40 mobs in an MMO to complete a quest. Gets old so fast, not to mention the fuel penalty. Combine planet scanning + fuel and you will just find a lot of players storming through the main content and suffering the planet scan to just get their upgrades going.



Itemization is not different, is gone. Dont even know why the weapon lockers are around, the game switches automatically for you so might as well get rid of the whole thing, and even though your basic armor can be customized, the reward level that has been obtained in RPG`s through items is gone.

Sure, there are some slight changes between weapons and armor but the truth is that you can storm through everything without looking at the inventory once. Makes me wonder why it opens the gear window every time a mission is coming up, just go for the defaults the game is showing to you.



Skill points are basic and fun, but not as deep and customizable, and actually balancing all aspects through your team setup was a very nice touch in ME1. I still remember my first play through where I turned on auto level up. I was in Ilos (last planet you visit) with Tali and Garrus and couldn´t open crates or hack computers because their skills werent high enough, when in theory they were the best to do so. I understand this aspect has its drawbacks, the most important being to force you to use the same squad for all the missions, but to actually go back and re run the game without auto level up was the kind of deepness I liked of the game, it asked more from me. ME2 lost that touch, and overall all abilities are superficial, focused to achieve the same objective (kill as fast as possible).



Overall ME2 its an exceptional game, and I add myself to the list of people that look at the remaining flaws to make it an excellent combination of genres in the coming ME3. I didnt think Voice acting couldn`t get any better after ME1, but they raised the bar so high I am still shocked when im not playing the game (finally I have Mordin to put in my list of best videogame characters of all time with hk 47).



Thanks Bioware and keep it up!

Thomas Whitfield
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I'd kike to add something I forgot earlier.



What I think was the best advancement in the game was the addition of more natural body movement to the conversations. rather than swapping talking heads, we get sitting, pacing, hand gestures, and all sorts of great animations during conversation now. We have a lot more acting now i nthe nPCs, not jsut voice acting (which is really good).



I agree Mordin is probably the most stand out character in ME 2 (it was Wrex for me in ME1). He has more going on.. and feels like he has more personality. I'm excluding Garrus mostly because he cheats by having hours and hours of ME1 to expand his story / himself outside his growth in ME2. Even including that, Mordin seems stronger to me.

John McMahon
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I agree Thomas, Mordin is a blast. I just wish I could have a hot key that triggers his singing...(reminder: search Youtube for Mordin Singing).



The only problem I have with the acting is earlier the female Shepard (prior to getting the ship) sounds sleepy or just lazy. But once things start moving Jennifer hale sounds better. And I have no opinion on the male Shepard if there is or isn't acting I cant' tell probably cause I don't care.

Christopher Wragg
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I suppose minor spoilers follow;



Mordin is indeed awesome, for me the only new character that compared was Thane..though Legion runs a tight 3rd. Both have wonderful back stories and personality, and for me they were both perfectly opposite sides of the one coin. Both realised they needed to do tragic things to leave the world a better place, both spend their time moralising their actions, one uses science the other spirituality. Both made me agree with the necessity of Murder and the Genophage...I still don't understand how that happened.

Thomas Whitfield
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---minor spoilers---



I don't think Thane has enough time to really get his stuff in. Legion really gets shorted because of his late appearance in the game. (Both are interesting, but don't get enough screen time).



Mordin has the advantage of being both an early (probably) acquired NPC, and located right next to the research terminal (so we can talk to him more).



No matter how you set up the end mission, Thane probably won't make it to ME3 because of his story. I expect we will see more of Legion though I found Legion's perspective on things very interesting.



I think the weakest party member for me was Samara, followed by the 2 Cerberus people. They really didn't have much gong on., and all 3 pretty much were "whatever you say, boss" types. Samara's pledge to you pretty much wipes out al lehr alien code stuff for the duration of the mission... which was what is interesting about her.



The Cerberus party members do basically the same... and really don't say/do much for Cerberus while in your employ. With a whole boatload of psychos and murderers, Bioware could have had your Cerberus people be dirtbags from ME1 and had some mileage for them.. but they were kinda bland (I had a hard time talking to them, because Miranda's head seems funny to me.. It looks too big, and something about the proportions is off for me. Jacob is kinda cross eyed on my xbox, so that throws me and makes me look at his nose too.

Eli Juicy Jones
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While I think your evaluation of the details that differentiate ME1 and ME2 are dead on, I don't quite agree that BioWare has come close to redefining the RPG genre.



Quite simply, RPGs are defined by three characteristics of basic game design: Combat, Story and Progress. It's absolutely true that BioWare changed the proportions there. Story is still King, but combat obviously sits in the driver's seat and progress got hit with the nerf bat. The game is still clearly an RPG because even if the progression was simplified, it's still progression.



I also think it's noteworthy that Dragon Age and ME are so different, but not at all because, as you say, one would expect them to be more similar because the teams are made up of colleagues working on similar projects. Instead I would be totally shocked if ME2 and Dragon Age, or any of BioWare's other games, were that terrible similar.



As a developer, the last thing I want to do is produce carbon copies of mechanics in different games like boilerplate and then paste new art and stories onto them. I want to create something new and different each time, something that makes some intrinsic sense.



If BioWare hadn't made changes so radical, this game would not be as fun. These guys and gals made some very tough decisions about what to prune, and even though some things were definitely a miss (mineral scanning is bad and there aren't enough side quests for my taste), really they have shown the world that BioWare is capable coming up with ideas and treatments for each individual game that work for it and are also willing to try things and take risks.



That is all classic successful product development, isn't it?

John McMahon
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@ Jones, I heard that there were around 50 sidequests. I think the majority are found from exploring the planets and finding "signals".



I like Legion's perspective as well. The cool thing about continuing after the last mission is the ability to continue the conversations with Legion and others.



But one critique that I have since realized is that your choices in the first game, don't have a big enough impact on ME2. If Wrex died then Grunt can still do his Passage thing. Kaiden & Ashley were basically replacements for each other. Liara ignores you. You never see the asari from Feros again. The Rachni are absent except for a message. The council doesn't support you whether if it's the original members or all human.



So what impact did I have? Humans are trusted whether your Paragon or Renegade. What was my impact on the universe?



Thinking ahead, I think ME2 was meant to be the middle man of the trilogy. Some twists and reveals for sure. But no big shakeup.



ME3 has the possibility of the Rachni coming back and possibly is being built in conjunction with ME2's systems. But that's just speculation.

Thomas Whitfield
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Mr.McMahon: I did see the Asari from Feros. She is standing around in one of the hubs in a dress. I think it is Illium.



Most of the callbacks are emails or 1 NPC who talks a little. very few have 1 minor mission.


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