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I'll start this out with the fact that I can see how Mass Effect is a good game to a lot of people. Its accomplishments in story telling are hands above many games that I consider good. The effort behind the games are tremendous.
Its just not perfect. Not even close.
I will caution you that if you haven't played either game, I will not go easy on you. I'm not going to curtail anything so if you haven't played either for whatever reason, just move along.
Best way to start I guess is the storyline. You start off as Shepard, some human that has impressed other humans enough to get on a big mission with a Specter. The mission ends in betrayal and a beacon tells you about an oncoming threat. This and some other minor actions allow you to become a Specter and ride through the galaxy as Supercop. You go from planet to planet looking for clues and uncover the Reaper plot to destroy the universe. It's kind of a space age detective story.
Mass Effect 2 has been called the Empire Strikes Back of the series. I disagree. Its more like the Matrix Reloaded of the series. You start off with your ship being blown up with nearly everyone but you alive and well. Thankfully the evil Cerberus comes along and glues Humpty Dumpty back together again. You are then introduced to Miranda who doesn't like you and Jacob who does. Mass Effect 2 in fact throws a bunch of new people at you from the beginning and hopes that you like them -- Martin Sheen being one of them. The game then forces you to join Cerberus and gallivant off to some new hell hole called Omega that also has the biggest relay in the galaxy. You pick up the cream of the crop of the universe and head off to stop the collectors from terrorizing human colonies while learning that Cerberus isn't all that bad. It all ends with a super fight against a giant Terminator.
Its a bit over the top and has only a few things tying it to the original, but it's pretty and "epic". Kind of like Matrix Reloaded. The biggest issue is that I never once felt my crew was going to die. Everyone from bloggers to Bioware went out of their way to tell me that my choices will potentially kill all my teammates. Nobody died. I never felt that anybody was going to die. I just pushed it up to my team making bold statements and then everyone will come through.
Gameplay between the two games is radically different -- neither game accomplishing more than the other in gameplay. The first starts off with a system that will ultimately be broken by level caps and over abundance of ammo. For some reason you can't achieve level 60 on the first playthrough. You will just stop leveling up at Level 50. Shame it didn't tell me that. For some reason you stumble across more useless guns and ammo than you'll ever know what to do with. Thus you can sell them or use them as omni-gel. Either way you can easily max those two out. So from the outset you are restricted from the Extreme Power Gamer achievement.
Let's talk about achievements real quick. Mass Effect rewards you greatly for your achievements. It's probably the best thing I've seen done with achievements to date. You get an achievement and it unlocks bonuses for your characters in the second playthrough. For a game that forces you to play it twice for its achievements, its kind of cool. The way the achievements are laid out are infuriating for completionists, but speak highly of how you play the game. The only really annoying thing was when I played my second playthrough, I devoted equal amount of time to Liara and Tali on missions and I only got the Quarian achievement.
There was a C blog on this website about a gamer lending Mass Effect to a friend who completed a playthrough. He then committed suicide later on in his life, but his gamertag was obviously still up. Through this, you could actually interpret how he played through the game by looking at his achievements. Who he loved, what weapons he preferred, whether he was a renegade or a paragon. You could actually gain a sense of understanding about this person postmortem.
Mass Effect 2 has an achievement for changing your outfit and it removed that structure of achievements that I really enjoyed. I received 47 of 51 achievements in my first playthrough easily as a Veteran with a quarter of the achievements being painfully simple to achieve. I technically got the Fashionista achievement outside of "my quarters on the normandy" and in the Cerberus headquarters where you first meet Martin Sheen.
So back to the gameplay. Like I said, Mass Effect's gameplay was completely flawed from the get go. They give you four weapons and only allow you to be a master of two. The other two won't hit the broad side of a barn. To give myself a bit of challenge though, I did get the 75 kills achievement with the assault rifle when I wasn't a master of it on my first playthrough. The weapons overheat a lot, which makes them impractical in theory, but they also don't have bullets so it feels like a GI Joe cartoon with laser guns constantly firing without running out. Tali also has no armor throughout the entire game which makes her weak as crap. The armor system is interesting but has such limited customization as to make it useless. Also, I brought down a Geth Colossus with a sniper rifle in Mass Effect, taking on a Sand Worm in Mass Effect 2 wasn't a big deal. Removing that open world aspect hurt Mass Effect 2.
Mass Effect also comes with a little Matchbox car called the Mako. It can hover and shoot rockets and it's a fun little car to drive around in. Problem is you spend way too much doing the same exact thing in the Mako. If you have a completionist itch it's probably annoying. Every place you run around to in the galaxy has you set down in this Mako. It's as much a part of the crew as Wrex is. Its a great little car for the main missions, however every other planet you land on is just a giant sandbox to roll around in with missions that have very little variety. That being said I didn't have any real problems combing literally every world in Mass Effect. Only after I realized the grinding meant nothing did I actually care.
Mass Effect 2 kind of follows the Hideo Kojima mentality of sequels. A sort of indirect "fuck you" for complaining. People complained about elevators in Mass Effect, so there are no elevators only annoying load screens. Every area is a literal square block. If you actually need to go to another level there will be a set of stairs, or a small closet like area that looks like an elevator that triggers a loading screen. People complained about the Mako in Mass Effect. There is no Mako in Mass Effect 2, depending on what your view of DLC is. Instead of the Mako they make you farm for elements in probably the most annoying mini-game ever created. Where in the first game I was treated to a lush planet to bounce around on in each solar system, I'm just supposed to want to mine for Iridium for hours upon hours of the game. If there is a bonus mission on any of these planets that I had to scan for, I certainly didn't care to go out of my way to do so. In reality people complained and Bioware just threw it out only to replace it with something that was noticeably more annoying.
Weaponry is fairly weak as well. While its nice that you upgrade all weapon and armor through selected items, the heavy weapon is the only weapon that has any difference in customization. I rarely changed my weapons or my teammate's weapons out from whatever I had first equipped them in the beginning of the game. People complained that the battle system wasn't that good and so they threw in bullets and Hadoukens to liven things up. Technically my wife says they aren't bullets but a cooling mechanism that forces the gun to stop firing once it runs out of shells. Since I don't read the codec and they totally look like and act like any other bullets I've seen, I'll call a rose a rose and a bullet a bullet. I forced myself to get the Brawler achievement because I was just unloading clips with my pistols and then throwing fireballs/electricballs/iceballs at whoever got close. The game got harder when I forced myself to take unnecessary risks to get that achievement. I rarely used medi-gel since the save points would just respawn me right outside of the place I just died.
Arguably the biggest thing people walk away with after playing Mass Effect is the relationship trees. I play my Shepard in two ways. My first playthrough is curtailed to how I would figure myself to respond in real life in any given situation. So nine times out of ten, I'm Paragon. So I play as good guy Shepard. My second playthrough however is my polar opposite. I play as super racist douche Shepard just to see how different the world is on the other side. Its a bit unnerving and at times I just can't keep racking up those Renegade points, but I'm pretty consistent with moving my thumb stick to the bottom left corner during dialog options.
That system works in Mass Effect. I'm a step away from being a god damn super hero in one instance and in the other I'm the worst thing to walk into a room. Its made one of the greatest romantic realizations I've had in gaming. My super nice guy playthrough led me down a really unique path which I can only describe as a love triangle. In the end I honestly couldn't make myself hurt the somewhat skanky but kind hearted Liara in favor of my preferred cute tomboy Ashley. While I never really felt that the relationship was substantial, the sexuality of the characters did make me want to see this through. I ultimately didn't want to hurt Liara by rejecting her outright. Which prompted me to take an actual second playthrough so I could nail the girl I actually wanted. In that instance I somewhat sadistically took out that "sexual frustration" from the first game on Liara. I was mean to her. I wanted to make sure that I got Ashley.
Mass Effect 2 handled relationships a bit differently. First of all the amount of tail running around was doubled. This meant that if I played my cards right, I could have my pick of three humans, an Asari and a Quarian. None of which were a character that you could have in the first game. It made me actually wonder if you chose none of the above would Mass Effect 3 have an outcome where you could be with the character of your choosing from the first game. So of my five options, Miranda was a bitch to me in the outset. Once she got on the ship she did a 180 and recognized me as captain, but the damage was done. I didn't like her, but nice guy syndrome came through and she was about four feet from the edge of her bed before I finally said I couldn't do this. Samara came into the party too late for me so she wasn't an option. Plus she's old and a mom. The secretary kinda stopped being flirty halfway through so I just brushed her off. Tali and Jack were the two I had the same problem that I had in Mass Effect.
My second playthrough of the original Mass Effect had me wanting to add Tali to my harem. I was left longing, so when she gave me the ultimatum between her and Jack in Mass Effect 2 ... well there wasn't a second thought. She was mine. Sadly, I got no alien side boob. The best part of the game for me was whenever I went to talk to Jack afterwards I simply got a "Fuck you" from her. That's the way a relationship should end. Instead of Ashley simply stating how she's going to polish her gun for the rest of the mission. Even Miranda had a bit of resentment towards me.
I like harems. While Mass Effect didn't handle the relationships with the sexual tension needed, Mass Effect 2 made sure you knew that you had options. Problem was my responses came out a bit too perverse. I had a few moments where I just stood there mouth open thinking why the hell did he just say that out loud. Actually I had a lot of moments in Mass Effect 2 where I just sat there and wondered why I just said that. Even some of the facial expressions where weird enough that my wife asked me what was wrong with my face. I just had to tell her that's what the game thought my face should be making.
There are a lot of things I don't like about Mass Effect 2. None of the worlds are particularly interesting. They have cool features, but they aren't as interesting to go through as the first game. The Citadel which was kind of cool is now a Mega Mall. I became a Specter again only to not have any reason to. Ashley was fucking pissed that I was Cerberus even though I didn't want to be on their team. Liara, one of the foremost experts on Reapers, is now a shadow broker for some reason. I honestly hate that. Hell, I was expecting her to reach out and try to stop me on my supposed suicide mission. Actually I was really expecting her to have become pregnant with my child; something to throw a real consequence to the relationship tree. Nope. Peck on the lips and then straight to normal business. I wouldn't have thought we'd had sex if I hadn't seen it in the first game. The first games only main crime is that its potential wasn't near what the seconds was. That isn't something I can fault the first game in a series for though.
The last thing to talk about is DLC. I bought Mass Effect as a Platinum Hits because I just shrugged and said what the hell. It came with the "Bring Down the Sky" DLC as a code from the outset so I view it as a part of the game. It was probably the best part of the game as I usually ran into it after leaving the Citadel. There is a real consequence asked and a really cool item gained. Unfortunately I didn't run into any Batarian warlord in Mass Effect 2. That was pretty annoying.
My wife played through Mass Effect 2 before I did so she downloaded the Zaeed pack and the Firewalker pack before me and I really didn't know what the DLC was. So in the beginning Zaeed is the first teammate to join my party besides Miranda and Jacob. So my first real add on in the game was Zaeed. Not Garrus or Mordin, but Zaeed. Yeah. Not a good first step. Technically the first misstep was putting default Shepard's face on the cover, since I certainly have no idea who that guy is. The only thing I liked about Zaeed is that when you talk to him he starts going over his war stories, and when you run off it almost seems like he's getting louder. Like a grandfather that tells you war stories and you just have to keep listening because you can't be rude and tell him he's boring you.
The Firewalker stuff was actually really short and easy so I can't really complain about it, but if they are going to throw a landspeeder from Super Star Wars in the game they could at least make something cool out of it. I got in close to a Geth tank and my landspeeder lit up like a torch. I just sat back and sniped everyone easily.
Both games have a lot of problems. There is something just compelling about the game. I hate Cerberus, but I like Jacob. I hate the fact that they blew Garrus's face off and turned him into a revenge addicted jackass after he told me he was going to be a nice guy specter in Mass Effect, but I really like that he actually made it on the team. I hate Grunt being almost analogous to the awkwardness of puberty only to grow up as a jackass that only wants to kill kill kill, yet I love Mordin and his Niles Chrane-like idiosycracies. I hate that my ship now has gas, but I like the captain's cabin. I hated Joker in the first game and now he's a lovable little scamp.
The game fails me in many ways but I see what Bioware wants this game to be. I have no issue with people loving the game, only that it is truly "flawless." I will wait for Mass Effect 3 as I can only hope its combines the best and the worst of the two to make something better.
This promoted blog was written for our April Monthly Musing assignment, "E For Effort." You too could get promoted if you write something about games you hate but respect over on the Community Blogs.