Mass Effect 2 is a conflicted soul; the game made so many advances in so many ways, and yet took astounding backward leaps in others. More like it took a jump to the left instead. It went diagonally, in the best case.
With the release of patch 1.02 (finally I can play offline and have all my DLC active — thanks lads, I thought that was a horrible DRM trick rather than a bug), I am finally returning to this game to try out bonus free DLC such as the Firewalker pack. No, I am not buying Kasumi (five minutes long, from all I’ve heard) nor Overlord (which just sounds a bit floppy — come back Pinnacle Station, all is forgiven).
Just how well does the game stand up to a second play? (And is the lateness of this second play indicative of the game’s ultimate mediocrity?)
Spoilers may ensue.I have to start by saying that, overall, I did enjoy the experience. The plot still doesn’t hold water to me, and the game seems like more a series of vaguely connected short stories
The Firewalker Pack
We will begin with the new stuff. If I had to pay for the Firewalker DLC, I wouldn’t have. Back in Mass Effect, I said that Pinnacle Station was too short and under-developed — Firewalker suffers from this very same problem. This pack introduces a hover-tank replacement for the original game’s Mako, which both delighted and frustrated with its driving challenges.
Firewalker is five minutes long. Since it’s a hover-tank, it can jump, so you get some relatively cool platformer moments — an exploding volcano hosts one of the missions, where you have to jump between ledges over a pool of lava. It’s a step in the right direction, but there’s still none of the challenge of a traditional platformer; no moving ledges, falling rocks, nothing. Only two of the five bonus missions even have enemies in them.
Which reveals the rather awkward interface; in that there is no interface. I’m a minimalist, so this is great — except when you’re in combat and you have no idea how many hits you’ve actually taken. The new tank is pretty weak but suffers from the same regenerative health model of the main game (oh come back omnigel, all is forgiven). If you’re lucky, you’ll fall to the ground again (jump jump jump during combat) and notice the thing smoking and listing; otherwise, you’ll probably take one more bullet and drop dead.
The bonus content includes minimal dialogue (naturally); the only speaking parts are the odd hint from the tank’s VI and the occasional generic “we got it” team-mate sounds when you pick up objectives.
Yeah, yeah, content is content, but Firewalker is tiny. Once again, where’s my editor — I could fart a longer and more involved map-pack than this. I refuse to believe it takes that much effort to construct these levels (of course, BioWare, you’re more than welcome to invite me over and prove me wrong).
Even the joy of riding around and whittling down a Thresher was removed. Okay, Thresher fights were terrible for the potential to get one-shot-one-killed (or the worse bug where it came back to life), but they were something. Firewalker is five minutes of… very little. Even the cannon is now a homing missile, meaning you don’t even need to shoot straight to win.
The Mining Patch
When DS and I speculated on this mysterious “mining patch” I’d heard so much about, he suggested that they probably just increased the movement speed of the cursor.
I don’t think I actually expected him to be right. Well, half-right — you had to pay for a research first. Mining Effect 2 the dating sim: engaged.
I mean… we waited several weeks for this to jump from console to PC? When you did that little to the game?
The Balance Between ME and ME2
The two Mass Effect titles are on either end of a see-saw in so many ways; I’m sure I harped on about this last time, but some new insight may occur with re-examination. Or it may not. That was a good six months ago.
The first balance is between loads of uncharted worlds made up of a terrain heightmap, some textures and some very, very rare props — and few miniscule but finely detailed missions.
The thing is… they swapped all that driving time out of the missions and into the meaningless drag-the-Normandy-around-the-galaxy-map-funt-time instead. At least when I coaxed the Mako up a sheer slope, I felt something.
“I know you feel this.”
— Harbinger, Mass Effect 2
But here? It’s mildly amusing, but still. Missions are just so bite-sized that it hurts. A variety of mission lengths would be nice; from the funny little non-combat one to massive combat slogs with Mako involvement. Oh wait, they couldn’t add vehicles until after release. Geez.
The second balance is between loading times. Mass Effect had those infamous elevator scenes — but are they really so much worse than a point-blank long loading screen? The lifts would have been delightful if they shortened them to encompass purely the character interaction, and removed the mind-numbing down-time at either end. Nope, stuff that, back to the old-school loading screen — I suppose, at least in ten years’ time these screens won’t feel so long, while the lift sequences are time-locked.
The balance of achievements is also different; again, in some ways better, in some ways worse. So you don’t get any tangible reward for them — that’s fine, since getting additional experience or bonus weapon damage just for carrying Garrus around for the entire game is a bit strange. Then again, 99% of the achievements of ME2 aren’t actually achievements; completing main quest missions and even side missions isn’t an achievement, it’s just what you do over the course of a game. An achievement is when you go above and beyond the call of duty; like winning the game on Insanity difficulty, or surviving the finale with all team members intact. It’s something to strive for, not something you just hoover up over a single play.
I think in length terms, speaking as a completist whore, Mass Effect 2 does actually come out on top. Though I reckon most of this is due to its mining rather than the sum total of its bite-sized missions.
Something they could have done with the Firewalker pack is introduce something to fill the worst plot-hole in the history of plots.
“You’ll have to take the shuttle to the next mission.”
What next mission? Huh? I didn’t touch the galaxy map — you didn’t let me, you just… just… Aaaargh! The main story-line is short enough that they could have done something better. Say, all team members launch an assault on something. Even a stupid five-minute there-might-be-data-here smash-and-grab. Anything would have been better than that awful, awful piece of… I honestly can’t believe it. From the company that spawned the likes of Baldur’s Gate? Come on guys.
Hell, if they just released a “polyfilla” DLC I really would shell out for that. I’ve heard that the two paid DLCs are no good and/or five minutes long too, so I doubt I’m missing anything. Quite a leap from the massive Bring Down the Sky pack we PC people got for free for the first game. What’s up, guys; now that we’re actually paying you, you can’t deliver as much?
“Surprise. More political BS.”
— Othello, Unreal Tournament III
The sad thing is, from the massive credits-extensions each tiny little pack adds, it probably does take serious effort to produce these add-ons. I just can’t understand where all that effort actually goes.
Yes, you’re right, fucking baww.
Mass Effect 2 is a good game. Mass Effect is a good game. They just don’t quite fit together, and that annoys me.
I’m all about internal consistency. But if this is the difference between ME and ME2, what will they carelessly ret-con in ME3?
And when the emo generation have finally grown up and “lol dark past” isn’t fashionable anymore… What then?