Obscured View

A few chosen words on the world of video games

Archive for February, 2010

The paragon

Mass Effect 2 is a very good game… even if the game part of Bioware’s titles are becoming less game and more interactive fiction.  In Dragon Age, I feel the game actually got in the way of the IF.  In ME2, I think the play compliments the IF rather than getting in the way.

Mechanic wise, ME2 strips a lot of the heavier RPG stuff out of the equation from the previous Mass Effect outing.  Want to know how much damage a gun does?  Not going to happen.  What about weapon attachments?  Nope, gone.  Armor for your allies?  Bzzzt.  Yet for some reason they show you shield numbers and health on the character screen.  I almost have to ask — why?  I never more than glanced at it, since there was no way to compare those numbers to any enemy damage values to get an idea how much you can take.

The only new game mechanic I can think of is the new ammo / heat system.  This is a nice addition, since it forces you to switch weapons and manage your ammo for what you think a mission will throw at you.  Maybe it was the difficulty I played on (Veteran), but ammo drops were not frequent enough to spam weapons fire.  I enjoyed this.  Playing a sniper, I certainly made every shot count, and would switch weapons in order to conserve my precious sniper shots for high-threat targets.  That was a welcome intellectual consideration while in the middle of battles.  The barrier / shield / armor / health layer system also presented some nice mix-ups for which power you’d use at what time and on what enemy.  It wasn’t so deep that I got lost with it, but it was deep enough that I did find myself using specific powers on specific layers of enemy defense.  Since allies also have unique abilities that are better at certain types of enemies or not, the choice of ally became important to what you thought you’d encounter on each mission.  It did become more rote as you get further into the game though, since the pattern of use never changes up.

So I’d say that 94% of this game is completely enjoyable.  However, there’s just a bit that’s not. Some of the side missions you can discover via anomalies are more dramatic and exciting than several of the main-line missions.  The green-fogged geth planet, the sandstorm (although that could have been even more intense, IMO), the chlorine gas / beacon, and the geth husk swarm missions all stand out… and they’re all optional.  Early on in the main game while getting your team together, there’s a great mission that involves the player staying out of direct sunlight, but after that, there’s no interesting environmental “twists” in many of the mainline missions.  I think this is a missed opportunity.  As a game maker, it feels like the mainline missions were done first, which allowed the designers to learn what they could really do with the scripting system.  Armed with more knowledge of the engine’s limitations, the side missions — which were done after — were a bit more “risky” and thus more creative.

Because I don’t want to give anything away, I’m not going to talk about the story any more than saying that it makes a lot of sense and has some nice pace… until it just doesn’t.  There’s a moment later in the game that comes out of no where and without a warning.  Once it happens, there’s different outcomes to the later game depending on your next immediate action, which goes against the “play at your speed” ideal the rest of the game upholds.  For a completionist like me, I was annoyed that they were hurrying me along, and punishing me (as I found out later) if I didn’t hurry, since I still had a few things to do.

The game has an interesting balance to it.  Imagine there’s a difficulty curve, and a player weapon power curve.  The power curve rises faster over time than difficulty, so eventually the power curve overtakes the difficulty, and then the game becomes easier.  Setting the game’s difficulty to higher levels only delays that moment.  I played on Veteran, which became easier to survive the further I went into the game.  I’m not complaining though — some of the early combats against large mechs were nasty, with multiple deaths before being able to overcome them.  I’m not complaining, though.  It kept me interested.  Even when things get a bit easier, are a few enemy biotics that are always deadly, and you can still die rather easily if you don’t use cover.  Enemies are never as powerful as your team is, which feels like a bit of an oversight, but it’s not as noticeable as in say Borderlands.

I still have the same issue with the dialogue UI that I had in the first game.  When you have subtitles turned on, you tend to read faster than they speak, so you occasionally hit the B button to skip dialogue sequences.  Of course, B also quits you out of conversations.  Sometimes the next dialogue choice tree comes up before the dialogue finishes… sometimes the moment you’re hitting B to skip it.  You then quit the conversation.  I don’t approve of that consolidation.  You end up screwing up a lot and dropping yourself out of some dialogue paths… some of which you can’t get back to without reloading a save.  Punishing me for not wanting to hear a repeated dialogue path isn’t very nice.

And now a moment of comparison.  Dragon Age vs. Mass Effect 2 —

Maybe it’s because it was sci-fi.  Maybe it’s because the game part was a shooter, catering to console.  Maybe it’s because it was a sequel and I could import my character.  Maybe it’s because the returning characters were ones I really liked in the first game.  Maybe it’s because I couldn’t play “who’s the tool / traitor / dead guy” as predictably.  Maybe it was because the AI for my allies was actually decent.  Maybe it was because ME2 feels like a console game, while DA felt like a port of a PC game, with large deficiencies in the UI and character control.  All in all I’m completely in the Mass Effect camp.  Really, there’s no comparison in my book.  ME2 is a better product… IMO, of course.

The low down: Highly recommended if you liked Mass Effect 1 or if you like fun sci-fi RPGs.  I use the “RPG” part loosely here, since there’s not a lot of that to it.  The normal and easy difficulties should make the game approachable for any level of player, even if you usually shy away from shooters.  If you’re even competent at shooters, play veteran or above.  You’ll enjoy the challenge.

Also, the game has an excellent and never obtrusive auto-save system, which makes playing a fluid experience.

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