The Corrente Review Of Games: Volume II, Number 9 (English Edition)
The Corrente Review Of Games is published on the first Saturday of the month.
Posting is done in rotation by the following contributors:
Aeryl, BDBlue and danps.
Please contact any of us with submission ideas or feedback.
- Review: Mass Effect 2 (danps)
I'll just get this out of the way at the top: I didn't like Mass Effect 2 (ME2). I didn't hate it like BDBlue did Dragon Age II, but I just never got caught up in it. I'm more a fantasy than sci/fi guy, so that probably made a difference. Playing an engineer instead of a sorcerer just didn't capture my imagination in the same way. On the other hand, my favorite two games of this generation of consoles are Oblivion and BioShock - the latter of which isn't fantasy OR sci fi. (Note to my colleagues: when the first next gen console rolls out we need to put together a favorites list for PS3/Wii/360).
I guess the lesson is that for a game to really be memorable it either needs to be flawlessly executed in an existing genre or pioneer a new one. ME2 does neither. The biggest drawback for me is the constant drawback of seemingly all Bioware games: WHY CAN'T I GO THERE? It's absolutely insane how their developers don't just constrict the exploring options but actually seem to funnel you down the path of the main quest. I'm not sure you can actually get lost in a BioWare game, and I can't tell you how many times I went traipsing down some interesting looking path only to have it dead end after about 30 seconds.
It did that with Dragon Age as well; BDBlue reported it with DA2. They just don't want you to explore the worlds they create, which is almost incomprehensible to me. Why go to all that trouble to create an entire alternate world and then not let folks discover it? And yet that's what they do.
Another huge complaint - unique to this game as far as I know - is useless farming. Most RPG/quest games let players eventually figure out a way to do what's called farming: engaging in some mindless repetitive task as a way to store up resources for use elsewhere in the game. I'd go so far as to call a system like this an implicit compact between designers and gamers: Do this boring shit over and over again and you'll be able to buy that top of the line armor, learn the toughest spells, etc.
A lot of gamers want to just plunge into the action, but for someone who likes to get as much of the stuff in the game as possible (like me) and who has a high tolerance for monotony (like me), farming is a part of the game. But what you absolutely cannot do is have players engage in that and not have them earn some reward that isn't otherwise available. (Or at least not available without a great deal of luck, Olympic caliber button mashing, etc.)
Guess what ME2 does? It allows you to mine planets for precious metals that can be used to purchase certain upgrades. So far, so good. But as it turns out, and as I learned after a number of wasted hours, and only because I went online to see what shiny object I would be rewarded with in exchange for engaging in that drudgery - sometimes you need a little incentive to keep going - I learned that I already had far more of all the minerals than I would ever be able to use. Couldn't use it for additional upgrades, couldn't sell it, couldn't do anything with it. That, my friends, is awful game design.
As for the story, it's just OK. If you've played Dragon Age the outline will be familiar: Get dropped into a crisis, recruit allies, gain their loyalty, power up, and prepare for the final battle. With lasers instead of broadswords. There's nothing really different in it, nothing compelling. The characters all have thier own stories and backgrounds, but none of it did anything for me. I didn't hate it, it just left me indifferent. The game took a long time to complete because at times it almost felt like a chore. There was no single compelling element that made me want to turn the console on and get going. It was all just kind of blah.
So what was there to like? Well, they kept the menu system familiar. I found their system (which I first encountered in Dragon Age) of bringing up menus with left and right buttons and having to hold them to keep the menus up to be cumbersome and somewhat hard to get used to, but once I got the hang of it, it made sense. Happily, they use much the same system in ME2 so it's easy to get up to speed if you've used it before.
They also changed up the inventory system which I guess I kind of liked. ME2 doesn't have a proper inventory system. You get stuff, and when you get new stuff or upgrade existing stuff it applies to all items across the crew. BioWare doesn't want you messing around with encumbrance, repairs, anything like that. Get stuff, use stuff. On the one hand it's nice, because inventory management definitely takes you away from the action. On the other hand, I kind of like inventory management. I like when a game forces you to make choices, figure out what to keep and what to drop, and shape your gameplay based on that. I like when leaning to do it well lets you carry more stuff, or better stuff, or generally move around in the environment more effectively. It's nice for a game to have skills available that give an advantage to the more patient among us (see: farming).
That said, the message boards I looked at seemed divided on it. Some folks felt a little cheated, some were relieved to have that taken off their plates. But like it or hate it, it's definitely an innovation. Give the designers credit for that.
The one thing that I flat out loved was the customer loyalty program. Turns out if you had the Blood Dragon Armor in Dragon Age - available only to those who bought the game new and redeemed the one-time armor download - ME2 equipped you with a badass set of space armor that has the same design as the Blood Dragon Armor. Is that an unfair cheat to those who shelled out full price on a BioWare product? Yes. Does it discriminate against those who aren't dedicated customers, aren't made of money or don't even know something like that even exists? Yes. I loved it anyway. Gimme the stuff and I'll take it, and the rest of you can fuck off.
Still, that's pretty thin praise overall. I finished the game, which is good (again, see BDBlue last month for how bad a game can be), but the stuff that was the same was the same in the worst way, and the stuff that was new wasn't new in a very exciting way. Bottom line: If you haven't already shelled out the money for it, don't bother. I picked up The Saboteur new for $20 online, and next month I'll tell you if you'd be better off doing that than paying more than that for a used copy (or God forbid $60 for a new one) of ME2.