Note: Please, no ME3 spoilers please. Not about story, not music, not anything. I hate spoilers with a passion as they completely destroy both the excitement of experiencing something for the first time, free of bias or foreshadowed ideas, and the emotional payoffs from them later. I will, however be dropping spoilers everywhere if you haven't played either ME 1 or 2.
I have played Mass Effect 1 and 2 three times each, and each time I have purposefully assumed a different persona. I have what I would consider my main character, Alain Shepard, who is modeled after me, making his decisions the way I would, were I thrust into this situation. Then there's Kira, who allows me to play as a female and explore a vastly different perspective, as well as being a overtly righteous person, and Tae Hyon, who is for limit pushing, and satirical purposes...a sith asshole (wait, which game am I playing again?). The latter two personas are more of a different perspectives/ analysis of how everything plays out based on the various choice options, and I have carefully crafted each character to branch out where the others don't, so they will be important in discussing things that my main character otherwise couldn't.
My first Shepard, Alain is proportially ok, though his chin and eyes are somewhat odd perceptually sometimes. :/ All my characters are ME 1 imported faces
Who and What is my Character
I have always found that with this first type of play through (modeling after my own psych profile) that my emotional attachments, and the interpersonal relationships that I work with (insofar as connecting with a bunch of code and vectors is interpersonal) lend more weight to both my reaction and attachment to the game, as well as the impact of my choices. This is also why I almost always choose to play this way first, so as to wring out the absolute most from the experience. In that vein I'd like to just run through some of the major decisions that Alain made, and where I hope to see things pan out.
As a person I have always been very inquisitive, multifaceted, and self reliant, making my own decisions rather than others making them for me. Even with this amount of self reliance, I feel very emotionally towards others and tend to have a strong need for connecting to people that I interact with (blame the artist in me). Working this way, you can probably surmise that I tend to be fairly pragmatic in my decision making, and did in fact explore the entire galaxy, to great headaches at times, thanks to the Mako and planet scanning (see ME2 gripes below).
Interestingly enough, I have gotten adept enough though my musical training, that I have learned how to pace my story/character progression to a disturbingly accurate level. For example, in Skyrim, I didn't even plan when to do what, but instinctively knew exactly when it was time to return to the main story and have it fit perfectly into the progression (I've been very close before with other games, but that's the first time it was just dead on).
The problem is Choice
I pursued every dialogue option I could, which resulted in a short relationship with Ashley (I never understood the 'overly raciness' of that first love scene, I thought it was just enough, without being crude, unlike the cuddling in ME2, which I find rather crass)...but that never felt quite right due to her somewhat prejudiced or xenophobic preferences. It sort of worked though as when you reunite in ME2 she's kind of a closed minded idiot (so, doesn't me working with Cerberus warrant some skepticism? No?). The whole affair wasn't the greatest setup, including the whole council avoidance thing (it worked ok for Alain and Tae Hyon, but for Kira it felt really odd to not have the option to return to the work with the council at all, even for a brief amount of time) though I am interested in seeing how having two relationships play out in ME3. Eventually I fell into my second relationship with Tali (I didn't plan for that), and this one always felt much more fleshed out, thanks to improved character nuances in dialogue (Liz Sroka really stepped up her game in ME2, her loyalty mission being one of the standout sections of the game).
It also helped that the music surrounding the Quarians was the some of the only music that made a strong impact on me, which was kind of a letdown overall (map music is still good though ). In ME1 for instance, the first music you ever hear is in the menus, and you only ever hear it again once you land on Ilos, and doesn't trigger until you near the prothean VI, Vigil. Slightly before you reach the barrier They re-introduce the "night before Ilos" pseudo heart palpitations (percussive pulses) to begin, and eventually weave in the menu music (interestingly called Vigil) which is a really wonderful culmination of elements, and leaves a large emotional impact/payoff on the player, or at least it did for me (musician, so I'm skewed a bit, but still..). They tried to do this in ME2, in very much the same way, but it never came across the same way, more like a "hey this was unbelievably cool, let's do it again. crap, it's not as good... :/".
I never could get her porportions right as you can see. They look better in motion, but the nose and some other things have always been less than optimal.
Returning to the dialogues/relationships, you may have been thinking, why not pursue Miranda? Well that one is simple, A. It was way too obvious that this was going to be an option, and to make matters worse B. I couldn't stand how they visually portrayed her; being 'perfect' doesn't mean that your clothes or 'assets' (yes that pun is intended) can defy the laws of physics, that and wouldn't it serve you better to reveal less and give us the emotional carrot (satisfaction) later if we pursued a relationship with her? I like a little mystery, and she had none. Speaking of mystery, I'm very interested if they will reveal Tali's face, and if they do, will it be only to the people who pursued a relationship with her? I'm hoping for the latter as it doesn't basically give me, and others, the finger in that you'd "just find out anyway".
Anyway, while the dialogue is pretty much better than a lot of other offerings, that's not to say they don't need to improve on it. I still would prefer several options (old school) to choose my most appropriate response rather than the infuriating choice wheel of, choice A (I'm going to be as helpful as possible) choice B (I'm...er, trying not to offend anyone) and choice C (fuck off), but it would be silly to expect anything else at this point. The third option is one that hopefully has gotten a serious re-tooling as there are some inherent problems that my third character, Tae Hyon kept running into.
My KOTOR sith-styled (hey his eyes even glow...oh, that's not cool?) renegade asshole, Tae Hyon Shepard, has a hard time playing with others, and it's generally best to not talk to him because he's likely to either insult you, or shoot you. To further complicate things, because of the implementation of the dialogue system, he also had a dissociative identity disorder. Ok, I think I need to explain that one.
It's unfortunate, but understandable that my last character is the best looking, proportion-wise. "hellllllo, what have we here..."
The voice actor has a neutral state of dialogue used for a lot of what he has to perform that is unbiased, or uncolored with direction. Unfortunately, due to the major swings from neutral to giant tosspot that the renegade options are, the schism between the dialogue execution is shall we say, a bit uneven. I can only hope that they realized this and made an adjustment, but I'm not terribly hopeful. The reason is that to make the proper adjustment, the voice actor would have to re-record every piece of dialogue 3 different ways for the character portrayal to be perfectly in sync, and that would take a lot more development time and money (we would also have to create a ruleset to determine which personality was the primary source). Overall I will say that the less you want to interact with people, the more playing as a renegade is a feasible option, and this was probably the most annoying thing to someone who wanted to explore every facet of the game.
Playing as a renegade, Tae Hyon felt a lot like playing a KOTOR character where I was a giant walking asshole, but at least in KOTOR there was a really good reason for me being a bastard, I was Da----BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP----(if you don't know what I just said, you're either living under a rock, or haven't played one of the top RPG's of the last decade)! Being a Renegade was very contrary to my personal style of being very inquisitive, and even worse when I tried to explore how much of a dick I could be to everyone. Here again, Tali stood out, as when I did her loyalty mission and ratted her father out, she was pissed. No one else seemed to care that I was a giant asshole. The one thing I am somewhat interested in with my third character is how the overall plot plays out what with the rather large path of destruction left in his wake (with the council dead, the rachni dead, the facility left intact, and a succubus as a companion (Morrinth) :D).
You've made the choice...now you need to understand it
All in all I am interested to see where my choices have led, and how the end-game will all turn out. For 'critical' DLC (I'll decide once I play how important it would have been to play it), such as Lair, and Arrival, I am interested to see how this plays out in ME3, if they will be glossed over, ignored, or a choice I will make before the game begins (as they have alluded to). My relationship status of course, and all of the other little things that happened along the way. Below is a list of other major events that I would imagine will have a larger impact on ME3, but I don't know for sure.
Overall, I'm hoping that with less dev time on making the game work well, that they had a lot of time to iron out the story and drama that makes a game like this so endearing.
Oh, and one last thing: No DLC for this one, because non-or-barely-depreciating consumer goods is bat-shit crazy (6 years later, horse armor is still $2.50 while KotN is still $10, that's still more $ than Baldur's Gate 2, LOL).
Major Plot Choices for Alain Shepard:
• Kaiden is dead
• Wrex is alive and kicking
• The Council is alive
• Anderson is on the Council
• Had a fling with Ash, and in a relationship with Tali
• Rachni are alive
• Everyone survived the suicide mission (Tali died the very first time I attempted this , which was unexpectedly poignant, and awful at the same time (she was loyal too), needless to say I redid that)
• Legion wasn't activated
• Grunt was 'birthed' and is a badass
• The Collector base is collecting space dust (not destroyed)
• Gave the Illusive man the finger (not really an impactful choice, but it was nice and cathartic)
• Kirahee aided on Virmire
• Genophage saved...I think?
• Mass upgrades for ma' ship!
Major choices for other Shepards
Kira (not actually very different from Alain save for a few things below):
• In a relationship with Liara
• Collector base blown to hell
• Genophage destroyed
• Legion is on-line and loyal
• Wrex is dead
• Kaiden is alive
Tae Hyon (massive clusterf#$%)
• Council, dead
• Rachni, dead
• Feros bit it, hard.
• Kaiden is alive
• Udina is on the council
• Collector Base salvaged
• Samara is Morrinth
• Miranda and Morrinth are the only two to survive the suicide mission (pfff, what loyalty missions?)
• Miranda is my +1
• Zero upgrades to my ship
• Legion sent to Cerberus
• Grunt not birthed
Initial ME2 Thoughts
It's been very interesting looking back at my somewhat snarky and scathing remarks about ME2, and while they aren't nearly as well thought out as they would be were I to construct them now, I still think they are pretty on, though I have warmed up to ME2 much more since my first encounter. The amount of visceral-ness in the writing may have had something to do with my frustrations and eventually breaking a pair of $80 Audio Technica headphones at one point but, if you're interested it's all here, and there's a lot of text as I was pretty thorough with my nitpicking.
+ Show Spoiler [ME2 thoughts, ME3 wishlist] +
Ok so there's this game called Mass Effect and its sequel ME2, which after its launch this January was then highly touted to be one of the best games ever made. Is the game good, yes, absolutely. Coming from the RPG maker that is Bioware, they know how to develop a story pretty well, however I couldn't help but think as I was playing this 'masterpiece' that was I the only one who wasn't so enamored with it? sure it's a great game, no question there, but one of the best ever made, I think not.
There is so much to like about ME2 that was of supreme annoyance in ME1 (see planet exploration, or thermal weapons) either doing away with these entirely or revamping them into something worthwhile, and for the most part they get it right. Yes the mineral gathering actually has a purpose, but going through my second playthrough with my ME1 character I found that after exploring about half the planets and siphoning off any and all resources I found that I was still sitting on a ungodly amount of resources, and by ungodly I mean over 200K in 3 of the 4 types (element zero is albeit a bit more rare than the other 3 anyway, but I still had 60K), and this was after I had upgraded everything that you possibly can. After half that I just gave up on mineral harvesting and just made sure there wasn't anything of value (e.g. a side mission) that I was missing, but It felt like a downer, like exploration was not exploration but a long annoying process of tedium.
What struck me the most though was the cohesion of the entire game, and by cohesion I mean production and presentation to the end user, to us. I would like then to switch gears and to jump right in and refer to my so called 'grievances' with ME2 and what really got in the way, or did not work in the game in my opinion. Let me know if you felt the same way about some of these things, and before I begin to list them I would like to clarify two things. ONE: many of these issues are very slight or 'nitpicky' to some, but it is precisely because I saw these things, and got annoyed or disheartened by them that I mention them, and TWO: THERE ARE SPOILERS BELOW, so if you wish to avoid them, you'd best stop now and come back after you've played the game.
So in no particular order, here we go:
• Loading: wtf? ok so loading times took way to long, and why is every screen a loading screen? Difference in ME1 was that you could load an area but it was a Half-Life like update to the area, why then have so many screens for this, especially on the Normandy where I really would have appreciated standing in the elevator (I didn't mind ME1s elevator rides other than they were too long)to watching another load screen. The main issue is that this kills immersion into the game. In Call of Duty 4, they came up with a nice idea to merge the loading screen with something pertinent to the mission, why then could they not overlay a fmv and load the mission behind the scenes, it might take longer but at least it isn't completely separated from the world you are exploring. Going along with this is,
• Character loadout screens: In ME1 you never saw this (aside from going planet side) because you could upgrade whenever you wanted. Simple, easy, out of the way. The funny thing is that you can do the same damn thing in ME2, so why ask me (see beat me over the head) for a loadout screen, and not one, but three? The only two times that becomes necessary is for planet missions and when you are doing loyalty missions and need one of the characters specifically, and only then is it necessary to pick your characters, not screw with your stats and/or weapons. Now maybe it's just me, but I planned this out when I went planet side so that I had the right character and equipment. Overall, stick with what was in ME1, it was simpler and much less distracting.
• Leaving areas: whenever you complete a mission or area on a planet or otherwise your are automatically whisked away and plopped onto the Normandy... wait what? Just because I complete a mission goal does NOT mean that I want to A. stop whatever I'm doing and B. leave the planet. In ME1 everything was linear in this respect. You dock your ship, you take an elevator, you walk to your desired area and do whatever, repeat for return journey, and if you wanted to return to just your ship you did, a DOCKED ship, not some magical ship that somehow got into space without you telling it to. This may have taken up more game time but it really added to the immersion of the game. This was a real immersion killer as it broke the linearity of the presentation and story.
• Mission Complete Screen: do I really have to explain why this is stupid? I know what I just did!
• Combat mechanics: I know I know, wait the combat was soooo much better than ME1. true, although the biotic got nerfed, which saddened me. My major complaint on the mechanic? Why the f!@# are my run, use, and cover controls the same key?! I can't tell you how many times I died the first time around because I vaulted over cover into enemy fire or ran away from people firing at me only to wall hug in the opposite direction and get shot in the face, again. This was terrible design. At least separate run and cover.
contd: When you get hit you have these annoyingly ugly blood vessels that crowd your screen. Please figure out a different visual representation because that was very ugly, and surprisingly out of character for the rest of the visual style for ME2.
• User interface: I should have more options to navigate these menus. Mouse wheel? Enter? It would have been nice to be able to cycle through the levels of my ship with my mouse wheel and select them with the enter or use button. Perhaps they could re-work this into a more doom3 styled interface to add to the in-world contact, rather than another nebulous screen. And while I think of it, a lot of complaints on too many screens in ME1, well, there here in ME2, they just moved to something else.
• Dialogue trees: overall I would have liked 2 more total conversations with each of the crew. At some point you just hit a wall and you just stop talking to them, it was a little disappointing. Also I would have liked more mission specific dialogue that was more personal. I actually liked it in ME1 where the crew was giving me their opinion on the missions and I got to find out more about who these people were, and they were dialogue trees in it of themselves.
• Capped dialogue tree: to keep things a little more varied perhaps have 3 different responses for after you've pushed the dialogue as far as possible instead of hearing joker talk about fracturing his thumb for the 7th time.
• Profile Reconstruction: Not to say anything about the default facial structures and options, which sucked, but I would have really liked to have been able to go back and edit my ME1 face.
• Dragon Age banter: this part of DA:O was some of the funniest an interesting dialogue that I've heard in a while, but more importantly doing this really explored each character and their intrapersonal interactions with other colleagues. ME1 had more like this (see elevator rides), but ME2 was surprisingly devoid of 'superfluous' dialogue, and felt very mute as a result.
• Dialogue: please don't have Shepard say the same stupid thing you just did, or exactly what I just heard from your NPC. Woman: "if it will help, please examine her things" Shepard: "I'll go examine her things", why not "Thank you I'll do that, yes you'd have to identify the dialogue sentence, but think of the tailored dialogue you could unleash, and not re-hash.
• Exploration: I would have liked more planet missions, they felt very sparse compared with ME1. Finding them was a bit nicer/exploratory than Hacket yammering in your ear every time you entered a new system. As I mentioned earlier with mineral gathering, this was swapped out from something that was completely useless in ME1 to something that actually had a purpose and is somewhat interesting, however there were so many minerals and the way that you actually gathered them was an exercise in tedium and I lost patience for it, probably later than most. I mean 200K, even after every upgrade? Seriously unbalanced schema, and were this handled better it would have promoted another major element that I just talked about, exploration. This minerals tedium actually discouraged exploration because of how long it took. Maybe if there was 1/2 the minerals or if the system was a little better streamlined?
• In my notes: I mentioned character loadout and loading screens again: I must have really hated them.
• moving weapon positions: really? I am a fan of hotkeys that I can slap and bring up my shotgun rather than going into the tactics/pause screen, but every time I got a new upgrade or the like my weapon positions kept moving, so F1 was never always my heavy gun. Annoying when I wanted my sidearm and pulled out a BFG with no ammo. nice.
• Conversations: With all conversations, random or not please for linearity have the avatar walk up to you, and once you leave the conversation have the avatar there walking away or something. It was nice to see certain dialogue follow-up to side quests, but it was really jarring that they all had personal teleportation devices and disappeared afterwards.
• Relationships: If you have a relationship with someone why does this dynamic not have an effect on the rest of the crew (ok it actually does, but only select personnel), but moreover why in scripted scenes did these dynamics not show up. I understand the whole professionalism thing but it would have been nice to have some body language, or emotional connection to that person. For example: SPOILER: If in the suicide mission you have Tali go through the vent and she gets shot in the head, there should have been a special cutscene for that or dialogue: vice versa, if she lived, there should have been some emotional status to the congrats for getting the job done so efficiently. See Miranda as Biotic shield later. This brings me to another aspect of relationships;
• contd: your relationships do not matter. I have spent a lot of time invested in the development of these things and your telling me that it doesn't really matter?? This is perhaps a potential problem for ME2 to 3 but certainly was a slap in the face to everyone who developed a romantic relationship with anyone in ME1. We thought that something would develop, and instead we got a half-baked email or a Liara that just didn't give a damn. Thanks. Maybe they're waiting for ME3 to resolve stuff, but it did not help this installment.
• Normandy SR2: This ship was much bigger and less staffed, even though they assured me that it was fully staffed. Maybe it was my eyes but there were a lot of empty posts in the CIC. The main issue I felt here was that the ship didn't feel as dynamic or as warm as the original Normandy. The size would have been ok if there were more crew interactions or busyness going on. More importantly, once the Normandy crew is taken from the ship it really didn't feel any different as if the people were there in the first place. They went for something really neat, and failed to deliver the emotional impact/connection in order to make that reveal powerful and crazy. Don't get me wrong, that was a cool/unexpected move for me, but just didn't have the impact I think they wanted it to have.
• Map Navigation: ME1 was way better. More interactive and much faster as well. This time around I had a little ship that I could control and had to fly it around. It felt like a minigame, with no perks or point. ME1 was more tactile like I was using it with my hands. Also, Same music. Good music, but there's no way that's gonna fly in the 3rd installment. The Composer needs to go back and do a remix of that piece in order to keep the continuity of what the 'map' is while keeping the development moving. This actually brings me to another issue
• Music: On the whole it's not bad, but when you put it up next to ME1, there's not really a commonality, and this is a problem. The most poignant moments for me happened to coincide with some subtle usage or reference to previous music from ME1 in a new context. This made things fresh while still drawing from the original source material. Another problem was that this score was far to orchestral in its treatment. The gestures were nice and some of the music for this game is pretty engaging, but when put next to ME1 things look a little weird. The score could have done well to merge into a more cohesive electroacoustic medium rather than slap two fields together that occasionally fused really well.
• Character Models:
o Miranda: Last time I checked, leather jackets didn't do that around the chest area, or ass. Seriously, that whole outfit should have been redesigned so that it looked like an actual outfit and not an elaborate skin to cover up someone wanting near-porn in their game. This is also reflected in the very obvious movement of Miranda where we see here ass paraded in front of us. Um, guys, part of the excitement is not making things too obvious and letting us guess. Also, if you bed Miranda it would have really been a stronger emotional impact to see here undress and get to see her actual form. One of the main reasons that ME1 was so 'racy' was because They wore somewhat demure outfits and then you got to see a very attractive body underneath later, or something like that.
o Samara: Breasts... um, ok so I know you like them, and so do I, but you should look at more. Someone who is near 1000 is not going to have breasts that are A. that perky, and B. in that location. They could have done with moving them up so that they were in the anatomically correct position or redoing them so they were anatomically correct, because currently, they are not. This was super distracting, and not in a good way. I know, you're going to say "but she's an asari", well, physics are physics my friend, and I've seen enough of this anatomy to know this design is waay off.
• Follow-up conversations: here I bring up Tali again because she was the one I got involved with and is a good example of this. So you have the option to not choose and think about going ahead with Tali or not, so I choose this option, then decide, then go back to talk to her and tell her of my decision, right? Great, except that she's stuck on the last dialogue. Would it have been so hard to add a line for Tali or the others saying ..can we talk - "yes, I've been waiting, have you made a decision?"? so hard? The benefit of this would have been nice.
• Husk Ambush: ok so I actually broke a pair of headphones because I got so pissed that this, but seriously guys, if you are going to ambush me with husks (see zombies) at least let me have a way from getting out of a pack of them somehow. Essentially if you got caught with 3 or more next to you, you were screwed, period.
• Suicide mission: FMV, actually pretty good, however, why is Joker firing the guns and not Garrus? it would have been a great boos to camaraderie in the game if everyone did something in this that was in a position to do so (Tali does, as does Jacob, but no Garrus? really? I mean come on, those damned guns were reverse engineered BY the Turians).
• Final Briefing: would have really liked to see everyone on my team assemble (more visible) so I knew I was talking to them. This isn't so much that I know that I'm going to talk to them as it is more a gearing up to really hammer home again that this is it folks. In that, I would have liked more input from other than just 2 characters, maybe it was my command style, but I wanted more voluntary input.
• FMVs: forcing me to re-watch these things really annoyed me and took up my time. Both in the beginning and this last section really would have helped if I could have skipped them after seeing them once. FF12 did this, Batman AA did this, it actually really helps, especially when you make a decision you want to retract before that scene played out.
• Sound: when you leave the ship and in general, there was no sound of crashing and burning. I just blew up a station and all of the falling panels and walls aren't making any sound? Oh, and apparently Shepard is a superhuman who can lift massive amounts of weight in bulkheads.
• Epilogue dialogue: nice that they have a conversation about what happened, but it was so idiotic that afterwards that if I talked to them again, say Mordin, he talks to me about when we complete this mission, and his family...wait, didn't we just take out the collector base?
Really this was all about the lack of immersion into the vast world that they created the first time around. This game is very good, with so many great improvements from the first, but the lack of polish on some of the most basic presentation elements really hindered my total enjoyment of the game. That is not to say I did not enjoy it at all. I did enjoy this game, and ironically so much so that I felt compelled to write about it. There's a lot to like about ME2 and a lot of things that were scrapped for something better, and I hope, along with others, that like ME1, they listen to what we felt worked and didn't so that for ME3 we can truly have an extraordinary experience, and not stuck in a loading screen.
Part II, when I actually finish the game :D