Blog 402: The Greatest Miner in the Galaxy

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.

The Plot-Hole

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.

Fucking Baww

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?

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8 thoughts on “Blog 402: The Greatest Miner in the Galaxy

  1. I found Mass Effect 2 to be leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessor. What bothered me most about the first was how lifeless everything felt. Sure, the Citadel wasn’t so bad, but basically any other planet that should have populated seemed like they were stripped of all NPCs besides the mission-critical ones. I like seeing people walk around, mumbling to themselves, even if I can’t interact with all of them, it just makes for a better atmosphere.

    I thought the whole inventory system was fairly poor as well. There was just too many duplicates and useless items you kept getting when you were at least 2 ranks above them. It was interesting at first, but really got on my nerves after a while.

    ME2 was much more streamlined, that’s about the easiest way I can describe it. It was better in basically every way for me, although the Mako was pretty fun for a bit, even if it was on basically the same terrain with some different deformations and a new skybox… maybe some weather.

    I think most of my issues with it (and yours, seemingly) come down to the massive amount of development manpower that went into the game. I mean, sure it’s fairly short and the missions are quite small, but the amount of coding that must have gone into each one of these to link it into basically the entire rest of the game has to be immense. Different voiceovers and such depending on who you have in your team, everything like that. I’m sure budget was an issue at some point as well. I remember hearing that they had a team (I think it was a team, maybe it was only one guy, but either way) who was specifically devoted to creation of realistic eyes for the characters. I mean, who can imagine how many total hours have been put into the development of this?

    What’s probably the most disheartening for me, though, is that ME2 will be, in all likelyhood, one of the longest GOOD RPGs for many years to come. It seems like development has largely shifted from quality and length to simply providing an incredibly polished (albeit nowhere near perfect) game that provides a respectable amount of playtime, but simply can’t hold its own on older RPGs without the dread multiple playthroughs. Sure, the content is there, but when you have to dredge your way to it through hours of stuff you’ve already experienced, it puts a bit of a damper on it if you ask me. I suppose we can look forward to the third installment, but to be honest I think they’ve proved what they wanted with the second. The third will be good, but I highly doubt it will match ME2.

    Anyway, as you can tell I like long games. Dragon Quest VIII-over-100-hours-to-complete-the-main-story long. I’ve learned not to expect it these days, but I can’t help but reminisce. That being said, I did very much enjoy Mass Effect 2, and to a lesser extent the first. Both were significantly better than Dragon Age, at least. Though I will give it its credit- I think I’ve put about sixty hours in so far, but the combat is incredibly clunky, I can hardly stand it. Anyway, this was way too long. Hopefully we can catch up on the Hive or MSN.

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    • The worst thing about the Mass Effect franchise is that half of your conversation options have the exact same result, so your ‘multiple playthroughs’ are only different on the surface. Yeah, I’m sure I’ve said it before somewhere else, too — I’d rather 40 hours of one good story than 20 hours I have to repeat to see new bits. But hey, this IS the console generation that think 25 hours is a long game.

      I gave Mass Effect 2 a glowing review the first time around (a bit like Dragon Age), but after the fact it just feels so… hollow. I didn’t care to replay it several times in a row like I did with ME1 before cooling off, and after another completist run I don’t feel the urge again.

      All that development effort, people devoted entirely to eyes… and was it worth it? I’d say, despite all the overly-difficult fights I had to exploit to get through, I still enjoyed playing the entire Baldur’s Gate series more.

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      • I’ve never actually played Baldur’s Gate, sadly. Back in the day, one of my friends had it and he always went on about how good it was (Icewind Dale too, not sure if they are related). I’ve always been a little more partial to console RPGs, starting back with the SNES. Final Fantasy IV is still one of my favorites; I thought the story was fantastic. Dragon Quest VIII was on the PS2, and it wasn’t so much about the story as much as it was just a very polished adventure that went on and on. It was a lot more lighthearted, and the voice acting was fantastic.

        As far as other Bioware games go, I have Neverwinter Nights Gold Edition, which I played for quite some time. I used to own one of the KotOR games, but that was before I had discreet graphics and it wouldn’t run off the integrated chip.

        Anyway, I have to agree. Considering the amount of development that has gone into these games one would expect them to as close to perfection as possible, and probably a little longer than they are. They’re still good games, but after you look past all the production values, you can see they aren’t as deep as you might think.

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      • If you think NWN is good, then the BG series will demolish you. If you believe nothing I say ever again, get the Baldur’s Gate series and do it. It’s an incredible experience, one that any self-respecting person will undertake at least once in their life. The Icewind Dale games are related in that they’re the same engine and same company, but I’ve yet to play them. They’re not as legendary as Baldur’s Gate, at any rate.

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      • In that case I’ll have to see if I can pick it up the next time I’m in town. I remember my friend saying something about using magic in towns was prohibited and some really strong guards appeared and killed him. At any rate, it sounds great!

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  2. Same writer as Planescape:Torment, same guys who made NWN2, both of its expansions and KotOR2.

    It’s a bit like Deus Ex in a way, lots of options and choices that have a lot of meaningful consequences, but somewhat clunky combat (although it’s a third person shooter) and weird game balance. The dialogue in the game makes up for it by far.

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