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Mass Effect 2: Predetermined Suicide


Don’t worry folks. You haven’t traveled back six months to January 2010. Before you ask, no I am not late to the party. Like everyone else, I played and finished Mass Effect 2 when it first came out and thoroughly enjoyed myself. Over this past week, with nothing else to play, I decided to dive back into the Massiverse for playthrough number two as “Lucifer Shepard.” It was through this “evil” playthrough that I discovered a fundamental difference between ME1 and ME2, and figured out my main gripe with the second iteration’s ending.

So let’s get everyone on the same page. Mass Effect 2 is largely about putting together a top-notch crew to go on a supposed-suicide mission and take down the main antagonists of the story (The Reapers/The Collectors). The crux of this suicide mission is that anyone and everyone can die during it if you don’t plan accordingly and make poor decisions. Your crew is quite diverse: there’s the full spectrum of crazy-scientists with questionable ethics, to battle-hungry genetic experiments who want nothing more but to kill as many lifeforms as possible. You have ten in total, and they’re all necessary for the final battle.

Now for most people, the goal is to keep as many crew members alive as possible. In fact, it is entirely possible to keep everyone alive and prove that the suicide mission is a piece of cake for Commander Shepard. In my first playthrough of the game I attempted to save everyone, but unfortunately one of my favorite party members (Legion) ended up dying while attempting to seal a door. I knew it was possible to save everyone, and I knew if I accomplished that on playthrough two I’d get a sweet looking 75 point achievement… but I decided to go a different route. This time I decided: Only five people would be allowed to live.

Why you ask? Think about the first Mass Effect, and how it handled death of your party members. You have to choose who will set off the bomb: Asheley or Kaiden? What’s different about this choice compared to the end of ME2 is you’re deciding who dies and not who lives. In that situation, you can’t save both people; you have to decide who you like less. This might appear as the same question phrased in two different ways, but the tone that the game has towards these types of situations completely changes how players react to events.

In March earlier this year the Psychology of Games blog talked about World of Warcraft’s rest system and how it affected player reaction (article here). To put it in short terms: originally the rest system had players who just started a session gain 100% XP, and that percentage would slowly decline the longer they played. The reason for this was to keep players in sessions of 2-3 hours instead of spending days on the game. However, reception of the system was very negative since players felt like they were being punished for playing a game they liked for longer. Due to this reaction, Blizzard fixed the problem by having new sessions start players with 200% XP that went down to 100% the longer they played. It was the same exact system but perceived as a reward instead of a penalty.

A similar parallel can be made with Mass Effect 2’s ending. The developers (and the game’s achievements) made it appear that saving everyone was the correct method of finishing the game. Thus, when someone died it prompted the emotion of failure in the player. Given the fact that completing the suicide mission in this fashion only required looking at an online FAQ of who to put where, a lot of players felt cheated when one of their party members died and frequently reloaded the last sequence until the desired results were achieved. This method of thinking is the same reason why people hold onto previous pages when reading a “choose your own adventure” book.

More importantly, from a narrative perspective, saving everyone is very boring. The supposed suicide mission has no weight as the Mass Effect series continues to nuke the fridge and lower the expectations of pending “dangerous” missions. This is why I decided to only save five people in my evil playthrough. I wanted to test who I valued more on my team, and to see if my choices were kept in mind for Mass Effect 3’s release. So I only gained the loyalty of those who I really wanted to keep alive, and neglected to upgrade my ship to withstand against Reaper attacks. I also decided I would knowingly “kill off” the party members I didn’t want to keep around by putting them in bad positions.

The results went haywire when considering the fact that neglecting to upgrade your ship randomly kills three of your party members before you even land. So even if you decided who you want to live, things may not turn out that way. In the end, I ended up only having three people survive the mission and only two of them were originally planned to be saved. I’m interested to see if Mass Effect 3 will adapt to these deaths in a meaningful way or if my desire to create an interesting scenario will be neglected in the same way the Rachni were in Mass Effect 2.

For those wondering, I planned to save: Garrus, Mordin, Thane, Legion, and Tali. After all the dust settled and I vamoosed from the Collector base only Mordin, Legion, and Grunt were alive. I found this playthrough to be infinitely more intriguing compared to my first playthrough of trying to keep everyone alive. When you leave some of the survival to chance, and accept the fact that not everyone will live it becomes a very interesting struggle for you to maintain dedication to those you actually care about.

I really recommend anyone who is a fan of the game to replay through it and do what I did: Only gain loyalty of the five you want to survive and don’t upgrade your ship. It adds a necessary spin to the suicide mission and hey, maybe you’ll realize which characters you really hate. Anyway, I wrote this out as it came to me with no outline or editing so it was probably very disorganized and lacked my usual vernacular. Let me know what you guys think. DP OUT.
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About DinosaurPizzaone of us since 10:04 PM on 11.15.2009

My name is Artie Augustyn... and I'm an alcoholic. No I'm not, but I feel inclined to say that joke when given the opportunity no matter how predictable it has become. I started playing video games in 1997 when my parents bought me a Nintendo 64 and pleading for one for years. I was given Super Mario 64 and Goldeneye 64 on Christmas, and a year later on my Birthday I got Ocarina of the Time. I eventually moved up to a GameCube based on the brand recognition. I was soon persuaded into the world of Sony after playing Dynasty Warriors and Vice City at a friends house, and now I stand before you with an Xbox360, Playstation 3, Wii and PC.

For the most part many people have considered me a "late gamer." I never owned a NES, SNES, Sega Console, or Atari and I get a lot of flak for that. I've begun an initiative recently to go back and play older games that people hold to high praise and you can follow that on my podcast which I'm sure I'll mention a thousand times in this blog.

In terms of my views on gaming, I'd like to think that gaming will one day achieve a level of professionalism and seriousness such as movies or books. I think there are a few reasons that this goal has been kept back. Many gamers don't take the notion seriously, in addition to many leading voices not knowing what they're talking about, and in general everyone's disbelief that it's possible for games to be something more than what they already are. Although, I found Destructoid's views to make the most sense out of what I've seen so far, so I made an account on that sole reason.

I think that covers everything.
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