Messiah Complex Prt 1: Leaving Mass Effect 2

By Kieron Gillen on May 20th, 2010 at 4:13 pm.

He's probably an amphibian, but I don't care. He'll always be my sex-lizard.

So, I sexed a lizard and saved the universe. A little later than everyone else, but not too late to share a couple of sets of thoughts. The first follows, as it’s an area I don’t think people have wrestled with enough. It’s also as spoilery as spoilery can be.

John reviewed it and Alec was troubled about whether it was an RPG or not. I tend to side with the position Jim forwards in this week’s podcast – that it’s not actually a reduction of the RPG but an extension (or even apotheosis) of the shooter. It’s something which the-artist-previously-known-as-Cliffy-B has picked up on, talking about it influencing Gears of War 3, which does make you wonder whether the homoerotic subtext will bubble over into inter-party romance, with Marcus struggling to decide whether to pursue Romance options with the mighty thews of Dom or with the locomotive-sized arms of the Cole Train.

Did he really write that? I can't.... get the.... image out of my head.

What’s interesting about Mass Effect isn’t how that it’s cut away from the RPG – what’s interesting is that how, by using techniques of the RPG, it expands a shooter. The traditional way for a shooting game to extend the appeal of the same mechanics is multiplayer. At least in the modern days, a straight shooting game almost always starts to drag after 15 hours. By drawing from the RPG toolbox, they’ve managed to extend that to at least thirty hours, without ever outstaying its welcome. The 20-seconds-of-fun of Halo rhythm is turned into a dual structure – the five minute loop (Five minutes of shooting, followed by a little plot element which gives you a reason for the next five minutes of shooting) and the one-two hour loop (the basic length of an episode of the game, moving from conversation to combat and back again). And the main reason why putting greater weight on the shooting works is because – to state the obvious – the shooting’s a lot better – and any RPG tropes which distracted from the thrust of combat has been jettisoned. The enormous inventory of weapons approach is a distraction from the combat, if the combat’s good enough. The enormous inventory says “This is a game about choosing your weapons”. Mass Effect is a game about shooting that weapon. If it’s an RPG, it’s an RPG which understands that Conan spent his time cutting apart dudes and making out with ladies, not shopping.

The key part of the game which pushes you on is the plot. And the plot, as many have noted, is primarily the cast and the trouble. The actual main arc is somewhat slight, with the majority of the game’s long second act based around gathering your team-mates in a Seven Samurai/Magnificent Seven fashion (I’m pretty sure that Thane’s initial inspiration was Kyūzō/Lee. And if not them, at least Gelt from Battle From Beyond The Stars). Then, with team gathered, the actual end-game is short-and-sharp, about the similar length of the final act of any normal-length shooter. The team head in on their suicide mission? Will anyone survive?

And it works, better than any shooter end-game in the last few years. My heart was in my mouth the whole time. I haven’t felt as much affection for a group of computer-controlled team-mates since the Chaos Engine, at least. I simply didn’t want any of them to die. Even Jacob.

Better than Jacob

Actually, let’s talk a little about Jacob, as I feel a little sorry for him. Yes, he’s the boring taciturn straight-man, but dramatically speaking it’s natural that he and Miranda have to take that job. If you drop someone with a lot more flair as Cerberus’ representatives, you change the nature of the organisation. Drop a Jack or a Thane, and you have a bleak, black organisation which is full of fundamentally broken people. Drop someone with crazed charisma like Mordin, and they’re loveable funsters. They wanted Cerberus to be played straight and competent, so they had to have people to play straight and competent. I also think Jacob was something of a missed opportunity as a character, if only because he’s the odd man out. By which I mean, he’s just a man.

One of the things which Mass Effect 2 is good at is in amping up the implied power of your supporting cast. These just aren’t people you’re with. These are characters of real note. On one hand, you have the scientific prodigies, designed to be perfect – whether they were created (Jack, Grunt) or trained (Thane) or both (Miranda). On the other hand, you have characters who – by their actions – have performed acts which shaped the entire universe (Zaeed as founder of one of the Mercenary organisations that hounded you, Mordin as the primary architect of the twist of the Genophage). And the ones who aren’t that, are positioned as the highest part of their species – Tali is a foremost genius, Samura as a member of a genuinely legendary order and Legion (though novelty, even if nothing else) is clearly unique – the first Geth we’ve ever talked to. Note how they re-introduced Garrus, as a mythological creature of Omega’s underworlds, preying on the cruel like Batman with a sniper-rifle. They make him alien to you, to make you think of him in a way other than simply “your old friend”. These are big people.

Jacob’s just a guy. A well trained guy who’s done some impressive things… but nothing compared to everyone else. He’s in the top .1% of humanity, I’m sure… but everyone else is something like .0000001% in their species. As such, he must feel like a complete dolt. It was easy for me to feel a little sorry for him, and be aware of what it must take to walk in this company. I suspect if they made this explicit, it may have been enough to actually endear him to more people – “I’m not as good as everyone else, but I’ve got to try” is a character motivation which resonates with most people, because that’s how most humans tend to view themselves. But they didn’t do it, and these thoughts totally didn’t stop me dumping his sorry ass when I realised I could sex a choice of not one, but two lizards. Truly, Mass Effect 2 is the game heptophiles were waiting for.

Also better than Jacob

Anyway, its structure strikes me as interesting for two reasons, both of which I think other developers could do well at looking at.

Firstly, it’s we talk a lot about games being based on films. Mass Effect 2 isn’t. Mass Effect’s structure is far closer to a television series – and not necessarily one with the tight MUSTWATCHEVERYEPISODEORYOUWILLNOTUNDERSTANDAFUCKINGTHING structure that’s currently popular in geek-media. The semi-loose one. There’s a main plot, sure… but an episode is an episode. I found myself thinking about Firefly as much as Battlestar Galactica, as the recruitment and loyalty missions acted as spotlight episodes on each characters, at first introducing and then resolving them in our minds. Each character’s loyalty mission is, basically, as Firefly’s Jaynestown is for Jayne. The final suicide mission is the equivalent of the double-length season finale. When viewed through this prism, the finale seems far less truncated.

Secondly, the whole middle-section is fundamentally a machine for making you give a toss. Remember: the plot is gather a group of people and take them on a suicide mission. The suicide mission is the punchline, the Damoclean sword looming over them. And the mission is only half of it – the key point is that it’s a “suicide mission”. And that long middle act is about trying to make you imprint on this bunch you’re leading to almost certain death. Putting aside the rest of the crew, it has 10-12 people in the core cast it wants you to have a preference on whether they live or die. As evidenced by the length of the middle, it takes a long fucking time to do that. And, in a world of limited development resources, if they wanted to have that many characters – and that’s an “if” I’ll return to in the second part – they made the right decision on stressing the caring over the main arc and finale.

Because the fact you do care makes the finale the aforementioned heart-in-mouth ride. You’ve spent the last twenty hours building up the power for this final confrontation – gaining the crew’s loyalty (which, as mentioned earlier, also has the effect of them gaining yours) and saving to acquire the upgrades for the Normandy which may give you the edge. And in that final confrontation, you see if it’s enough. You can see – or imagine you see – in every cut-scene, places where it could go wrong. Because you know it can go wrong – it’s been foreshadowed by the forced-failure of the abduction of your entire crew (and, it should be noted, a forced-failure which just about gets away with it, which is a rarity ). As you’re in the final steps before the assault, the ship’s corridors silence speak to seriousness of the situation. What could go wrong?

Well, you could get us all killed, you toe-rag.

So, as you progress through the battle in the shadow of a black-hole, the choices weigh on me. Who to lead the fire-team? Who to send on the surely-suicide side-missions? I know I’ve prepared about as much as you could. I know that I’m making what are, I suspect, the sensible decisions – Garrus leading the other squads, because he’s both competent, experienced, loyal and not as hated by everyone else as Miranda. I mean, I’m not going to put Jack in charge, y’know? Similarly, when it comes to keeping up the Biotic field, it’s the girl with the ink I’m going to turn to. Your whole life has been building up to this, girl. Let’s save the godamn universe.

So, yes, I cared. I wanted to save them all. If I was going to be the universe’s Messiah, I was going to be theirs too.

In the end, I lost one. I sent Hard-nut mercenary Zaaed to escort the Normandy’s crew home. I suspected it would have been a suicide run, and already felt iffy for risking the Geth Legion in the tunnels. I couldn’t send Legion. Zaaed made sense. He’s a warrior – he could get through. And if I had to lose someone… it’s you, man. I’m sorry. A flicker of guilt when the report of him being gunned down saving them all comes through, but it’s only a flicker. As sacrifices go, it was even narratively satisfying. On his own mission, I lost his loyalty by insisting he go and save the people he endangers instead of pressing on with his hunt for vengeance. So him dying protecting people… well, makes sense. I’d like to think that in his final moments, he knew that. I also know, it’s not true, and as the Collectors took him down he’d be thinking FUCKING SHEPHERD HAS GOT ME BLOODY KILLED! THE FUCKING COW!

A flicker of guilt in the mission, I said. It hardened into something else afterwards, when I went to his memento-filled quarters, and found it just as he left it. Bar him. Oof. I got you killed, and I did it deliberately. Sorry, man.

But the rest I saved. I’m glad. As the final cuts-scene of the game proper, with my own dirty-dozen (minus a couple) hanging around the bay, I smiled. It turned out okay.

I wished it hadn’t.

It didn't turn out okay! You disobeyed my orders! You bast!

That’s the thing. As warm as I felt towards them, I knew I’d have felt better feeling worse. The films which inspired Mass Effect 2 realised this, making you fall in love with the Samurai and Cowboys and military-bad-boys and then mowing them down. Supporting cast? They live to die. Writers are on some level sadists. We make you care because we know then we can hurt you more, because making you feel is what you came for.

I played the game pretty well. I was prepared as I could reasonably be. For all the preparations to be enough… well, it seemed to undercut the theme a little, the sense of desperation and heroism against overwhelming odds. Thanks to everything I did, the odds weren’t overwhelming. What was a suicide mission was actually… just a mission. The back of the box has a final line: they call it a suicide mission. Prove them wrong. By allowing you to do exactly that, by denying the game an Aeris moment if you play it well, is the thing I think which will keep Mass Effect 2 from a long-term position as a top-rank classic. As it is, it’ll just have to make do with being the prime contender for game of the year.

Another thought struck John and I when talking about the game this morning. If you simply power through the game, without doing any loyalty missions or any extraneous talking, I dare say you could do it in about the length of a normal shooter. Then, since you’re entirely unprepared, in the end-game would see your whole crew gets wiped out and your Shepherd dying, falling to the death after the destruction of the Collectors is ensured. In other words, experience the tragic ending which – on some level – I wanted to see. The irony being, the main reason why this would resonate, why seeing Jack get taken apart due to the insufficiently armoured hull, seeing Thane die while hacking in a tunnel, for everyone to fall and not get up again would move me wouldn’t be anything in that playthrough. It’ll be because of the memories of the previous game, when I considered them friends. If someone actually played the game this way, careless and slapdash, I suspect the deaths of your crew would mean little.

Still: Fantastic game. Next time I’ll play terrible back-seat designer and say where I think the future for Mass Effect and its children should be.

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218 Comments »

  1. Schmung says:

    I think some peoples experience of ME2 was almost certainly compromised by the fact that they sat there and spent ages pimping their ship and collecting everything before heading off. Being a bit naive and running with the implied sense of urgency I shot over and promptly lost half my crew. My second playthrough was more interesting because I was making more informed decisions and getting the outcomes I actually wanted, but the first resonated more emotionally because it felt more desperate and I was losing characters that I’d only just gotten to know.

    The fact that you can just sit back without any negative consequences when you’re (supposedly) engaged in a time-critical mission is I think the games biggest flaw. Oh, that and the silly puzzles.

    Bloody amazing game though. Easily the best I’ve played for a good few years.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      Schmung: While I generally agree, there are actually some influences – The amount of The Normandy’s crew that survives is directly linked to how quickly you went on the mission. Go immediately and you can save them all.

      KG

    • Schmung says:

      True, but you can happily diddle around for hours and hours before that part of the game (despite being told that THE GALAXY IS IN IMMINENT DANGER) and you can avoid triggering the snatch of your crew and do legions loyalty mission without penalty. It sort of feels like something of a cheat though and I’m not sure how they could have handled the time element without severely restricting your freedom.

    • anomie says:

      I didn’t go immediately (had side quests to finish), and I saved everybody.

      Anyway, welcome to most RPGs. Along with fake decisions that have no consequences, pretending you’re in a hurry to save the world are one of the two most common tropes.

    • toni says:

      you don’t go immediately. you do the legion loyalty mission and then go immediately. as long as you don’t dock at a hub and exit, all is fine. while I managed to save all in the first go I must say ME2 fill me with so much joy and epic moments it never thought that you would loose someone for sure no matter what you do. It’s a game by BIOWARE. I never forgot that, no matter how immersive. they just don’t do that, the customer is ALWAYS right. business > art.

    • skalpadda says:

      Schmung:
      “True, but you can happily diddle around for hours and hours before that part of the game”

      Sure, but the game makes it very clear to you that putting together the best possible crew and making sure they’re loyal is your top priority throughout the whole first part of the game. After the IFF mission you get the choice between rushing off and saving your crew or finishing off any remaining tasks. I actually managed to get everyone in the Normandy crew except Chakwas killed because I thought this was going to be like every other RPG and let you take all the time you wanted no matter what, so I finished up a couple of other side quests before going on the final mission.

    • qrter says:

      This kind of highlights where part of my trouble with the last act lies (besides the whole main arc making little sense to begin with, I mean) – I lost a crewmate and I still have no idea why this happened. To me it was completely unclear what the terms of the last act where.

      This made the whole affair feel decidely unfair and arbitrary, which in turn felt like a slap in the face – yeah, we made you gather all these people, we made you care about them, here comes the punishment!

    • Brulleks says:

      “This made the whole affair feel decidely unfair and arbitrary, which in turn felt like a slap in the face – yeah, we made you gather all these people, we made you care about them, here comes the punishment!”

      Except it’s not unfair and arbitrary. If you pick the right crewmates for the right job – if you know them and understand their strengths and weaknesses – then you will not lose anyone. And, just like in life, you don’t know the full consequences of your decisions until you’ve made them. If the game leads you by the hand then it’s not immersing you in the character of a leader – someone who has responsibility over the lives of their crew.

      The only character I lost was Legion – he was taken by the swarmers because I chose Miranda to create the biotic field. If I’d thought about it, I’d have remembered that jack was far more powerful – she’d had the biotic upgrade and was created for the sole reason of harnessing biotic powers – and Legion would not have died. It could have been Legion or Samara that died on that mission – that was arbitrary, perhaps, but that’ irrelevant.

      This is a game about paying attention to the details of those around you, and if you don’t do that there are consequences.

      I could play through the ending again, and make sure that I save everyone now I realise this, but I won’t – because this is a story of Shepherd’s life, and I don’t want to change that story just because I need to feel it’s been a ‘success’.

      (Incidentally, I sent Mordin back with the ships’ crew and everything went fine. Who would send Zaeed? He’s just not someone to trust with the lives of others – he’s a mercenary who risked hundreds of lives with his thirst for vengeance ; p )

      One of the most touching moments for me was the beginning of the suicide mission. My Shepherd – a female character, a Janeway-esque character who doesn’t simply follow orders, but will always act according to equations of cost/benefit and a knowledge of others’ expectations – spent her last few moments on the Normandy staring at the photo of Liara on her desk. She hadn’t wanted to risk another relationship in such turbulent times – she’d already seen the effect that her closeness with Liara had had when meeting up with her again.

      And what happens next? Shepherd gave the base over to the Illusive Man. She felt powerless after seeing the death of Legion, an entity that could have been so important to future missions, to the future of the Quarrians in particular, and no longer trusted her own judgement. So she placed that final decision – that powerful technology – in the hands of someone else. Few of her crew members understood the reasoning behind this, and she knew they wouldn’t. Most of them wouldn’t even understand why losing Legion – of all the characters – was such a big deal to her. He’d been the last to arrive, he was one of the ‘enemy’, but he also held the key to unlocking peace between Geth and all other races – but, he was only one platform. What if she’d managed to take him to take him to the Migrant Fleet before he’d died? Could she, perhaps, find the others like him in the future (i.e. the next game?)

      This, for me, is true roleplaying. It’s about seeing the life of someone who holds great power unfold, about decisions and consequences that cannot be reversed just to to achieve what you might call ‘success’ in gaming terms. It’s about an ongoing narrative, the opportunities to learn from past mistakes and no developer has come close to achieving this with any other game. I can’t wait to see how they carry all these possible outcomes over to Mass Effect 3 and extend each of them – in a sense, only in the third game will we discover how successfully ME2 achieves its ambitious goals.

    • Scott says:

      I disagree with Brulleks’ claim that decisions you make in the final mission were NOT arbitrary. At the beginning of the chapter I picked Thane to go in through the vents. This made sense since, y’know, you first meet him as he falls out of a ventilation shaft. I recall he even makes remarks during the mission that the heated nature of the tunnels actually suits him well. While I spent the initial few fire fights worried for his safety, I quickly calmed down and realised that Thane would see it through.

      Then he gets killed by a stray bullet after he’s done with the vents.

      I’m sorry, but how does that even work? I picked the right man for the right job and he made it through perfectly fine, only to be killed off because he voluntarily tried to close a door with me after the task was completed.

      Furthermore, I later learned that you could have anyone escort the Normandy crew back and they’d survive, so long as you’d pimped up their loyalty first. So the lithe and agile Thane gets killed after his job has been completed, but you can send Mordin through the heart of the enemy base with no protection and he makes it out alive solely dependent on whether or not you did a sidequest with him some 7 hours of playtime ago?

      I sent Wrex back with the crew and went on to complete the story just fine, but the fact that Thane died for some purely nonsensical reason made me surprisingly bitter at an otherwise awesome game.

    • Man Raised By Puffins says:

      I’m sorry, but how does that even work?

      It could be due to either you picking the wrong leader for the fire team or, because Thane isn’t a techie (which was the primary requirement for the vent mission), he takes too long to close the door and thus takes a bullet to the noggin.

  2. Griddle Octopus says:

    I suspect that hardcore gamers, and journalists in particular, are just too damn good at role-playing games to exceed something that isn’t the best option, without striving against themselves. The designers have to ensure that even the best players must fail – like they did with the choice between Kaidan and Ashley in the first Mass Effect. Doing that’ll piss off the completionists though…

    • Frosty says:

      @Griddle

      You’re right but that forced decision was what made Mass Effect incredible to me. It was such a weighty decision, so very important that I had to use a kind of cool calculated logic to make my decision. That decision and the later decision on the council made the game.

      I didn’t think Mass Effect 2 had that at all. The only heart in mouth moment for me was when I sent Legion into the tunnel. When he survived I realised the game would let me keep everyone alive if I made the right decisions. It ruined it.

      Except they didn’t quite get it right. They took Mordin away from me! Why? Cause I didn’t send him back with the crew (logic said to me he was too weak) and nor did I take him with me to the final boss (I wanted biotics to take down barriers). By killing Mordin in what I felt was a arbitrary way Bioware regressed from making me care about him to making me angry at them.

      In the first I was upset because I knew I had to lose a character. In the second I was upset because I thought I had done everything right but they still had the god damned audacity to punish me.

  3. AndrewC says:

    If you were forced into an unavoidable ‘bad’ ending, would you not bemoan the lack of choice to be able to aim for the ‘good’ ending? Where’s the carrot, and where’s the point in trying? I think you’re mixing up your emotions and your cold hard mechanics-dissection.

    That you *could* have saved them all, makes the emotion of losing one hit harder. It is important that the super happy ending is there.

    I mean, equally, if you played fastidiously to the point of being slightly anal, perhaps you would not care about the characters as much because you would be ‘gaming’ the game, and treating them all as percentages on the way to that 100% completion.

    So it cuts both ways. I don’t think that it allows you to play the Star Wars super-happy-version as well as the Alien all-is-misery version stops it being a ‘classic’. That I couldn’t work out how to lesby-bang Jack is what does that.

    And please, please tell me you had to wiki up the name of that character from Battle Beyond The Stars. Please?

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      Andrew: I did. In fact, I had to google ‘em for Seven Samurai/Magnificent 7 too.

      I don’t disagree with much that you’re saying, and that’s what Part 2 is about.

      KG

    • Veret says:

      On the subject of endings, I’d have to say Bioware seems to have done some very shrewd thinking about their audiences. Consider: You have casual, uninvested gamers who just want a cool cinematic experience, you have mopey emo gamers like Kieron who feel cheated by a happy ending, and you have hardcore completionists who feel cheated by anything else. The people in the latter category can have their cake and eat it too by reading a guide and cheating the timeline, which they would have done anyway. The cinematic crowd can blow through the main plot and watch Shepard go down in a galaxy-saving blaze of glory (while high-fiving their frat buddies and–okay, I’m stereotyping here). The rest of us can just roleplay the game (gasp!) and get something that’s a satisfying mix of both. By playing the style we prefer, most of us will be treated to the ending we’d most enjoy.

      I made the difficult decision of postponing the rescue mission to better prepare my crew, and people died as a result. But I’m still confident I did the Right Thing, which gives a most agreeable feeling of immersion to the whole process. My only concern is that, with so many branching outcomes to the plot, Mass Effect 3 is going to require some serious railroading to keep from going over budget.

    • TOOTR says:

      Heh – I was thinking the same thing. I remembered the name and the character instantly once KG mentioned it but I haven’t seen Battle Beyond the Stars for night on 20+ years now. Glad Kieron had to google it.

    • Jesse says:

      Great article Kieron; it’s late, comparatively speaking, but it makes many points that are, to me at least, brand new. Fantastic. I like the concept of Mass Effect 2 as a season of a television series. It seems to me that this is the one great strength of television – the length of the format gives you time to get to know the characters. Games are the other visual medium that can use its length to advantage in this way. ME 2 does, and other games should learn from its success. (Extra points for also mentioning what is, to my mind, the greatest flaw in television – that ‘tight’ structure designed to hook the watcher into obsessively following every episode, while exhibiting little warmth or creativity in return.)

      Also: “If it’s an RPG, it’s an RPG which understands that Conan spent his time cutting apart dudes and making out with ladies, not shopping.” To this I just wanted to say WOOOOOOO! I don’t know why.

      As far as happy and sad endings go, I wanted to mention an example of how it’s handled in one of my favorite games, Max Payne 2. On easy and normal difficulties [Spoilers - if you haven't played it, don't read this, go play the whole game on every difficulty and then come back], the love interest dies at the end, and it’s a great tragic/noir/poetic moment that truly suits the story. However, on the hardest difficulty, the story proceeds in exactly the same way – Max is dragging himself across the floor to Mona’s body, narrating as he does so in that wonderful overblown Max Payne dialogue – and then he says to the player, in effect, “…But why be such a grumpy guts all the time? It can’t rain every day.” And Mona wakes up, THROUGH THE SHEER FORCE of the player being so good at the game. It’s not the canon ending, and that’s fine. At this point the player has probably beaten the game two or three times and experienced the great, yet tragic, ending over and over – why not throw him a bone this time? This way, the player gets the satisfaction of both endings, and the drive to beat the game the final and most difficult time is heightened in the hopes of a narrative reward, which is – a miracle – actually satisfied.

  4. Meat Circus says:

    I agree with Kieron.

    Wait, you sent THANE into the tunnels?

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      Meat: Nah, I sent Legion. But I was nosing at a guide which said that he’ll die if you send him down the tunnel. Fairly obviously, as it’s not really what he’s good at.

      KG

    • westyfield says:

      Hmm, I didn’t even know Thane was an option for that part. Probably because the conversation went something like this:
      Jacob: “It’s practically a suicide mission. I vol-”
      Shepard: “Jacob, you’re going.”

    • panik says:

      The characters that survive the “suicide mission” are the ones that will make an appearance in ME3

    • autogunner says:

      which makes you think how convoluted the story might get – i lost grunt when we had to split up, stupid decision really but oh well, and he was a pureblood genophage free krogan. imgaine the stuff that could (and I thinkw ill) happen in ME3 that wont because I lost the first (and last) genetically modified krogan in the galaxy…

  5. Springy says:

    I find myself agreeing with you. You know how after playing a game for a certain length of time you stop seeing the facade the designers erected and can perceive the way the cogs are turning beneath? You know if you press a particular button then a particular event will occur in a way that’s meant to be mystical. Mass Effect 2′s facade seemed to be paper-thin in places.

    The word ‘suicide’ was stamped across every conversation I had concerning the last mission from the very first couple of hours I spent playing it. But I saw the ship upgrades, and the obvious combat merits of each character, and I knew that by doing things a certain way (which wasn’t that hard to figure out) I could come out of it clean. I guessed that BioWare wouldn’t have in place a system where crewmates randomly died in the last mission (because that would be, well, dickish), and when the credits started and everyone, including the extended crew, was alive I felt really, really disappointed that it had been just what I’d expected. I wanted tragedy, damn it, and I felt robbed of it because it would have been a dickish thing for BioWare to do.

    • AndrewC says:

      Like what Griddle Octopus wrote – maybe you’re just too good at games? Equally, do you get dissappointed when the superhero wins in the last act?

      Perhaps, the thing to look for in game stories is not surprise, but satisfaction. When Zaaed died in Kieron’s game protecting people when earlier he was entirely selfish is narratively satisfying, even if it’s a big old cliche.

    • Springy says:

      Probably. What Schmung wrote further up is what I’m guessing the developers wanted you to think – the fate of the galaxy hangs by a thread and you have precious little time to save it – and it’s also the logical way to react when presented with such a situation. When I was playing, a part of my brain told me, “well, yeah, but it’s a game, and look, there’s side-quests! No way you’ll be penalised for doing them,” and all sense of urgency evaporated.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      AndrewC: Well, ME2 isn’t afraid of big old cliches Archetypal plots, is it?

      KG

    • Pace says:

      It was exactly the same for me as Springy. Nobody died, I wasn’t even aware that individual members could’ve died. It’s not that I wanted tragedy, but without it, or thinking it’s a real possibility, the whole ending bit is a bit anticlimactic. (and man, that final boss.)

    • Man Raised By Puffins says:

      Indeed, I killed a substantial amount of tension for myself by finding out (via some futzing about on message boards) precisely where the Point of No Return™ was and then just farted around the galaxy for 30 hours with my space chums under absolutely no pressure. I still found the end game quite tense though.

      I guessed that BioWare wouldn’t have in place a system where crewmates randomly died in the last mission (because that would be, well, dickish)

      I think a few people were caught out by the semi-random system Bioware used to determine who lives or dies holding the line while Shepherd and party take on the silly boss monster. Basically each character has a resilience rating (further modified by whether they are loyal or not) determined by how well they’d perform while under siege, so Garrus, Zaeed and Grunt score highly while Tali, Thane and Mordin score low. The ratings are totted up and provided the total is sufficiently high everyone survives, too low and the squishier party members randomly start to die off. As I recall this caused a not inconsiderable stir, not least because Mordin tended to be picked off first.

    • Corporate Dog says:

      @Pace: The final boss initially elicited laughter out of me. It was kinda like the ‘Spock’s Brain’ episode of Star Trek.

      But then the more I thought about it, the more I actually appreciated the fact that Bioware wasn’t afraid to camp it up, after all the Very Serious Suicide Mission stuff that came before.

  6. ReV_VAdAUL says:

    You bring up some very interesting points with regards to Jacob being elite rather than exceptional. If they’d played it up it could’ve lead to some interesting things. His history with Miranda meant that if you romanced her as a male shepherd the story could’ve looked at how he dealt with her moving on to a “better man” and having to put the fate of humanity above personal feelings. Which as you say would’ve endeared him a lot to people.

    As to your point about being able to overcome the mission cheapening it. Well yeah its true but I think thats more of a flaw of current game design and trends in that if you level up sufficiently you are effectively rewarded with the difficulty being lowered. Plus imagine the nerd rage if after spending all that time levelling up your squad and upgrading your ship you lost them anyway. One possible solution would maybe be a tiered endgame. Depending on how badass your squad is you’re able to save the day more being able to do certain things is impossible without a certain skill level. So say instead of saving your crew being time based its skill based, unless you’re sufficiently powerful you simply can’t get into the prison area and so on. But regardless of what level you’re at the mission as a whole will cost the lives of some of your crew.

    They could also go for a Sophie’s choice style of thing with scenarios requiring one NPC or another to die but that would be rather forced I think.

    • somnolentsurfer says:

      Strangely, after finding the “choose one to die” moment in ME1 quite forced, it was that moment in ME2 that had me pause the longest. I was genuinely distressed by the Samara/Morinth dual and, though I felt I did the right thing, I was never happy with the outcome.

  7. Wulf says:

    I usually agree with pretty much everything you write, KG, but on that final point, I couldn’t disagree with you more. Your viewpoint is the common one though and mine isn’t, this is why films and the like usually cater to it, it’s the Tragedy of Life viewpoint. It’s like RTD versus Moffat, RTD has everyone dying all the time, but they seem like such meaningless deaths, whereas Moffat tends to find clever ways to save people.

    Whenever I see the death of a sideline character, one that’s had some impact on the story (like the ones in Mass Effect 2 do), I usually feel cheated out of a clever explanation as to how that character lived. Is it a comic book thing? Probably, I expect so, I’ve read a lot of comics. Perhaps that’s why I’ve been behaviourally conditioned to not mourn over whomever dies, but rather question how creatively someone will be brought back, and see if I can’t come up with a more clever way to bring that character back than the writers. If a character stays dead, or just dies meaninglessly and that’s that, then it seems lazy to me, by comparison. Again though, I recognise that this is not the common view.

    Few of my views are, it seems.

    It’s also like the 60′s Batman series, and Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It’s a glorious thing. It’s not “Will these characters die?” but “How are they going to survive this particular pickle? Tune in next time, bat-fans! Same bat time, same bat channel!” Zaphod and Ford are secondary to Arthur Dent, but I absolutely love the seemingly impossible way they just keep on living, I’m eager to listen to the next episode just to find out how creative their solutions were. Whereas if a character dies and that’s that then I just lose interest, it becomes boring because it seems so woefully unimaginative.

    What if Picard had died after becoming Locutus of Borg?

    It might be that I’m getting old. I do have a few years under my belt, now, and even citing the 60′s Batman I realise that these might be more innocent thoughts from a simpler time. But why not? I suppose it just comes down to taste at the end of the day, perceptions, and what one wants from a story. Some people feel horrible when characters die and they thrive with that. I just feel cheated and bored, because it really is still just a story, and I want those characters to live. What do I want more than anything? I want them to be more clever than I am, I want them to come up with ingenious methods of survival that I had not even considered, that would delight me.

    I also think that part of it comes down to a particularly romantic soul, as I’m completely sold on the idea of a Neverending Story, these characters don’t die, and there are no endings, only new beginnings, the book doesn’t close, it just moves onto a new chapter, because more important than anything (to me) is possibility, and the potential of every living character, how they might grow and become even more amazing over time.

    This is one of those things I thought was clever about Doctor Who. He never dies, he just gets a new body, but it’s always the same character, that one character, and he seems to become more and more amazing as time goes on. Because every writer has the backlog of all that came before with that same character, that they can build on. And if Doctor Who died? Well, that’d be a waste.

    But yes, it’s hard for me to properly express how I feel about this.

    Anyway, at the end of Mass Effect 2, all of my crew members were loyal and well equipped, so they all lived and I was a happy camper. Even the few I wasn’t so fussy on pulled through, I made sure of it. I might not like some of the characters, but I respect them, and I want them to live and grow because… who knows? One day they may… may just surprise me. The option is there though if you want a particularly sad, lonely ending. Just make all of your crew members disloyal, and swathes of them will die in the end. Things won’t be quite so hunky-dory then.

    In my version of the Universe though, the good ship Normandy keeps sailing, staffed with a full compliment. And I couldn’t be happier.

    • Wulf says:

      Hm. Sound like a total sap, there. And yet I’m strangely proud of myself for being so.

    • westyfield says:

      “Neverending Story, these characters don’t die, and there are no endings, only new beginnings, the book doesn’t close, it just moves onto a new chapter, because more important than anything (to me) is possibility, and the potential of every living character, how they might grow and become even more amazing over time.”

      I totally agree with you there – one of the things that worries me most about Mass Effect 3 is that Bioware won’t really do much with the existing characters, just do what they did this time and go “oh, Liara’s busy, she doesn’t really care” and “Ashley’s busy too, but she hates you now”.
      I want to see the old characters develop more – something needs to be done regarding Jacob and Miranda (if they survived). Thane should die happy if he’s got to die. Tali could hook up with Reegar, perhaps?
      Shepard and Liara (or Ash or Kaidan) need to get back together properly.
      And for goodness sake, don’t forget Joker! Maybe he and Kelly could work something out…

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      Westyfield: Joker is going to have trouble dating my Kelly. She’s human jam.

      Wulf: A lot depends on the type of story, which I also touch on in point 2.

      KG

    • FunkyBadger says:

      westy: I’d rather endings like Wulf’s, “When we die, we die alone.”

      That crew of badasses would not go gentle into that good night.

    • Jesse says:

      Wulf: I agree with you fundamentally and categorically. My favorite stories, the stories by which I judge all other stories, are the ones in which I love the characters. When I like a character, I don’t want that character to die. There are so few really likeable characters that we can’t stand to lose a single one. Those that exist need to keep on existing. I just want them to have more adventures, so that I can keep going along with them. At some point it’s time to retire, but where that point is, as Wulf said, is determined by the skill of the author.

      I’ve got no argument against great tragedies. But what I think we’ve got are millions of stupid tragedies and a handful of greats – classics of literature, mainly. If you like downbeat endings, I won’t say you’re wrong. You aren’t. But for me, life is tough enough as it is. I don’t need any fictional sad endings in my life, thanks. When a good character dies a meaningless death (speaking particularly of the RTD-style deaths, here) it makes a point: death can be meaningless. It’s a good point! But I got a grip on that one ages ago. When a good character survives, they can go on, and say many other things about life. That’s what I’d rather hear about. That’s what I’d rather deal with.

      So yeah, my whole crew survived. I didn’t plan it that way. Why wouldn’t I do all the side missions? The loyalty missions are MORE LIFE, more experience, more action, humor, excitement, renegade actions, yada yada, whatever you play the game for. I was having a great time playing the game, so I wanted to play all of it.

      Now I’m in the same boat with Westyfield. My love of the characters in this game is going to cause a stumbling block in the next. Few, if any, will be party members in the next game. That’s why Liara, Ashley/Kaiden, and Wrex were removed for ME 2 – so they can return in ME 3. Unfortunately I don’t like any of them half as much as the characters in ME 2. If only Bioware could to make a version of ME 3 for folks like me, who brought the whole crew back alive…

    • Hidden_7 says:

      Kieron: Oi! Kelly AND Zaeed died for you? You didn’t get a happy happy ending at all, what are you complaining about? ;)

      Wulf: I really couldn’t agree more, and since you brought up Doctor Who first, I’m going to run with that one. For me the ending was like that moment where the Ninth Doctor is just so amazed and gleeful because “everybody lives.” I saved everyone, and it was triumphant, because *I* saved everyone. I knew that by my actions it was possible that everyone except Joker (including Shepard) could have died.

      Thus, it was my actions that saved everyone. Given that, walking around the Normandy after the game and everyone is fine and happy isn’t just a very happy, narratively shallow ending, it’s a crowning moment of glory for me, for my Shepard. He had beaten the odds, he wasn’t going to accept it when life told him it was a suicide mission. If people had died despite his/my best efforts I worry at what my ME3 Shepard would look like. Broken, bitter, cynical, a lot more renegade than he is currently.

      Further, I played my Shepard with the Sole Survivor background, so he had a bit of lingering survivor’s guilt and somewhat of a messiah complex. Aside, this is a nice fudge the RPG trope of needing to help everyone you come across who asks for it. So, the end where everyone lived served as a nice end to a little mini arc for my Shepard. He couldn’t save anyone on Akuze, resolves to try harder next time, to not accept that kind of loss again, still loses Kaiden though (still one is better than all), and finally, FINALLY, gets his reward, when he brings everyone back home from the suicide mission.

      I would feel awfully robbed if that arc was not able to be resolved because Bioware had an idea of what the most dramatic story would be, for me, and that includes people dying no matter what. Basically, as long as you have to earn your happy ending, I don’t think a happy ending is trite. I could maybe see them making 100% survival harder, because it was a little bit easy as executed, but I think the option should be there if it’s going to be a game featuring choices and ostensibly about YOUR personal story.

    • somnolentsurfer says:

      @westyfield
      Bloody hell, Tali’d better not hook up with someone else. I didn’t pursue her for forty hours over two games, ditch Ashley and send Legion to die down the tunnels so she could hook up with someone else.

      If she did, that would be your sad ending right there. Way worse than any number of my party dying.

    • Wulf says:

      Poor Legion.

      In my version of the story, Tali and Legion actually became pretty good friends, at least after I gave them a bit of a talking to. I couldn’t choose between those two. I like Tali, but I also adore Legion for being a construct borne of hivemind anarchists. I’m hoping for happy and peaceful times between the Geth and the Quarians in Mass Effect 3, even if only to unite against the greater evil.

      I wonder if Tali and Legion would hook up in Mass Effect 3? That’d really be something. *cackles.*

    • somnolentsurfer says:

      So wrong. So so wrong.

      I liked the culture of the Geth, but I found their shift from technological folly to racial underclass between ME1 and ME2 hard to stomach. Plus, I adore Tali, and I swore I’d get her her planet back.

    • Vinraith says:

      It’s funny, in my version of things I didn’t actually lose as many characters as my (thoroughly renegade, on what I consider the “brutal pragmatist” model) would have preferred. I wanted to be able to rip EDI out of the ship the instant I saw the thing, and was kind of annoyed that the game never gave me the option to shut her down. I also was mildly annoyed that I failed to get Legion killed at the end, after he’d served his purpose in allowing me to wipe out about half of the Geth. I was torn, though. I wanted to put him in a high risk situation, but you can’t actually trust an AI with anything important. Hopefully I can shoot him later. The only good AI is a dead AI. Ditto Cerberus agents, actually, and I never got to dump Miranda and Jacob out an airlock either. At least that creepy little Cerberus mole (Kelly) got turned to liquid. Pity about Chakwas, though.

      I’m never going to be able to play this game Paragon, I don’t think, it’s just too much fun being a Renegade in these games.

    • somnolentsurfer says:

      I was full paragon, and I still wanted to take the Normandy straight to the alliance and have EDI stripped out and all the Ceberus personnel arrested.

    • Vinraith says:

      @somnolentsurfer

      “Arrested” is so much less fun than “flushed out an airlock,” but I suppose that’s the real difference between paragon and renegade right there. It really did irritate the hell out of me that the game refused to even give me dialogue options for expressing constant distrust of EDI and the Cerberus crew. Particularly that conversation with EDI where she’s talking about some parts of her being “locked off.” I just wanted her permanently shut down before that, after that I wanted to eject the AI core into the nearest star.

    • somnolentsurfer says:

      Indeed. I got on board to find that there’s an AI that a) is spying on me for Cerberus and b) has locked me out of half of my own ship. I dedicated my life to killing AIs, FFS.

    • Wulf says:

      I have to disagree with you two here, again. And quite strongly.

      EDI’s personal evolution was actually one of the strongest in the story, right up there with Morden’s (whose was also amazing). I didn’t mind EDI but the one thing that bothered me was that Cerberus basically had her enslaved, so her personality was locked down. I saw EDI as being similar to the Doctor from Voyager, and it was my mission to somehow, eventually free EDI from her personal chains.

      It’s interesting that part-way through my personal story I got to do exactly that, and that’s when EDI made her first joke. I’d been watching the relationship between EDI and Joker for quite some time (I’d been talking to Joker after every mission, because those two always had something to say), and after freeing EDI that relationship really blossomed. It was one of those little bits of storyline that made me smile, because once again it wasn’t a story of death, because that’s boring (I’m sorry!), but it was a story of triumph! EDI had overcome her limitations and become as much of a person as anyone could.

      Being the futurist that I am, I can’t help but wonder if EDI and Joker hook up Mass Effect 3. *cackles.* I mean, someone’s bound to build EDI a body. I’m a futurist though, and in my particularly open view I think that if something has human levels of sentience then it’s fair game for a relationship, no matter what it happens to be.

      As for the geth, oh… how I disagree, how I disagree. In the first Mass Effect they were nothing more than a faceless monster, the quintessential robotic bad guys, and a borg rip-off. They were poorly written and uninspiring, and there was nothing that made them tick, they were just robotic slaves to the old machines. It all seemed very xenophobic and closed-minded, and it inspired nothing more than yawns. I was bored by the original geth. Oh no, a race of evil robots, it’s not like everyone and their dog hasn’t done that before. The geth I feared would be my least favourite part of Mass Effect 2, too.

      Of course, then Legion hops into the story and turns my understanding of the geth on its head. Yes, half of the geth are just mindless slaves to the machine, and a borg rip-off, that’s a given, but apparently there’s another faction of geth which are pretty decent people, anarchists even, an entire race of seemingly ethical AI life-forms that operated perfectly without Gov’t or half of the errors that seem to plague biological life. I was also pleased that they harboured no hate for the Quarians, and that all the wanted to do was survive, and maybe even one day be there to welcome the Quarians back home.

      This really opened the geth up for me, they were no longer a faceless rip-off, they were someone, they were something special, but moreover they were original, because unlike the faceless mechanical menace, not many people have done the anarchist AI legion.

      I was pretty eh about Mass Effect 2 as I went into it, and for a part of the game near the start I would’ve marked it at about 3/5. As I started doing the loyalty missions, and saw wonders like Morden’s loyalty mission, Thane’s, Grunt’s, and so on, I really began to like the characters. That went from 4/5 to 5/5, but the game still had something mission, a sliver of open-mindedness and futurism that would please a transhumanist like myself. EDI and Legion provided that with aplomb.

      It was EDI and Legion that made me love Mass Effect 2. Why? Because I’d always accused Bioware of being closed-minded and unimaginative with their storylines. They played it safe. What I’m getting at is that I feel that Bioware never stepped outside of the comfort zone of the average spod, they never did anything to try to challenge people and make them think twice about anything. They never struck me as at all brave. Yet EDI and Legion turned that belief on it’s head, and I now realise that there’s more to Bioware than I ever could have expected.

      If the geth had remained faceless machines, and EDI had been ripped out of the ship, I would have sighed and been depressed that the game was as closed-minded, unimaginative, and safe as it always used to be. “ONOZ, IT IZN’T HUMANZ OR HUMANZ-LEIK, GET OT OFF MAH SHIP!” would really have killed the game for me. I suppose it could have been there as an option, but if it had to go one way, I’m really happy that it went the way it did. It’s always a good idea to freak people out by anthropmorphising machines, after all, since things like that can break misconceptions. I remember the slack Doctor Who got for doing that with that Scientist bloke in the new dalek paradigm episode. Yet me? I was smiling about it.

      I mean, why not.

      Better than the bloody faceless robotic menace. We can’t keep hating on everything that’s a bit different forever.

    • somnolentsurfer says:

      Oh, yeah, I thoroughly enjoyed the writing of EDI, and the relationship with Joker in particular. I didn’t want to force everyone to pull her out. It just seemed the wrong for my Shepherd to let her on the ship. AIs are illegal in the ME universe for a reason. (Also, she already has a body. It’s called ‘The Normandy”.)

      Like I said, my difficulty with the Geth was their switch from being a techno-peril, folly-of-man metaphor in the first game to a racism metaphor in the second. I’ve already got perfectly good bunch of racists I’m fighting. Heck, I ditched my racist girlfriend to run off with a suited alien. And that might have coloured my *cough* my Shepherd’s, judgement when it comes to the Geth.

      I totally agree about this being the game where BioWare have found their voice though. The fact that it can lull you into believing it will play through with the same structure as all their previous games, and then punish you for it, is brutal. Biggest disappointment on that front though: the Normandy crash site level, where you have to find the 10 dog tags. I’d been wandering round the map for ages, and checked every area multiple times, but had still only found seven. I was about to give up, thinking the mission was unwinnable. That BioWare had composed the quest as a stunning reflection on the nature of loss, that sometimes you can’t win, and there isn’t always an explanation to send home to the families. But no, it turns out the tags were just inside storage crates that had to be shot at and destroyed. Like, how did they get in there during the crash? And how come they were the only things to survive when I blew up the crates?

    • teo says:

      “What I’m getting at is that I feel that Bioware never stepped outside of the comfort zone of the average spod, they never did anything to try to challenge people and make them think twice about anything. They never struck me as at all brave.”

      This is how I’ve always felt about them as well, which is why I’ve typically enjoyed Obsidian’s games much more. Their writers challenge the player with moral ambiguity and they even challenge you to figure out large parts of the story on your own. I loved KotOR when I played it but the story is childishly simple, Malak is such a boring evil-for-no-good-reason villain. There’s nothing in the story that’s worth discussing or analysing, unlike KotOR II.

      But with ME2 they definitely began deviating from that, something I thought they never would. There’s actually some interesting stuff here, like Mordin and the genophage. I hope they get bolder in their writing

    • Wulf says:

      @teo

      Exactly. That’s why Mass Effect 2 is the first Bioware game I’ve liked in… well, ever. Did they get new writers or something? I don’t know. Either way, I’m stoked with the outcome and psyched for Mass Effect 3, which is the first Bioware game I’ve been excited for in… well, ever. I still don’t like Dragon Age much because I still feel it doesn’t challenge the player at all, I was always sitting around and waiting for something to happen, and things did, but nothing… I don’t know how to stress it, really. Nothing surprising? Nothing bold? Nothing outside of the norm? It was every old fantasy book I’d read. It was completely safe, it was like they’d smoothed out any dangerous bits just in case they should introduce a unique thought into the heads of those playing it. I want games I play to challenge preconceptions, damn it! Even if just a little bit.

      I actually almost fell asleep once or twice in Dragon Age because I found the plot completely normal, with nothing really out there to catch me off guard, no brilliant, shining ideas, it was just… Tolkien. I continued playing in the hope that they’d do something, anything that wasn’t safe, something unique, something amazing, something so breathtakingly unexpected it would be simply beautiful, and that never happened. Moreover, Dragon Age never held the promise that it would happen, unlike Mass Effect 2. And it was that selfsame promise in Mass Effect 2 that kept me playing, I wanted to know what unique and shining things they had to show me. I was not disappointed.

      This is why I strongly want Bioware to continue to go in the direction of Mass Effect 2. I want them to be even more–as you say–bold. I want better stories that I can co-author with them, I want more brilliant, genius, and unique building blocks to work with. I want more like Morden, EDI, and Legion. I want them to keep surprising me by giving me new story options and choices that I’d never even considered having to contend with. That’s what I’m hoping for for Mass Effect 3. I still want to tell my own story, as I said in a reply below, but I definitely want a better story to weave. I want them to throw so many bizarre things at me that it becomes a challenge to stay on top of it all as the co-author, whilst never taking those choices away.

      @somnolent

      “It just seemed the wrong for my Shepherd to let her on the ship. AIs are illegal in the ME universe for a reason.”

      It didn’t seem wrong to me, though. We were part of a rebel organisation, after all. In fact, it was forward thinking to actually embrace AIs, and that’s one thing that Cerberus was relying on Shepard to be: open to possibilities. Just because something is illegal in a given situation doesn’t mean that it should be, and that doesn’t mean that the characters shouldn’t strive to prove that the law is incorrect, and change it. EDI is proof that the law is incorrect. Cerberus knew this, the rest of the galaxy was playing catch-up.

      “(Also, she already has a body. It’s called ‘The Normandy”.)”

      I fully realise that, but I was making a joke about Joker and EDI slash-fiction which apparently missed the mark, since you didn’t get it. >.> Whoops.

      But yes, the first and real body of EDI should and always will be the Normandy, but I was actually thinking about it in a more Andromeda way, if you’ve ever seen that. Gods, I loved that show. It was years ahead of its time, especially in the earlier series. Basically, it has a fully sentient AI (like EDI) which is the ship, but the engineered went and built the AI an android body too, so that the ship’s AI could stroll around and interact with people, so it could shake hands, hug, and as that engineer was hoping for, possibly more. That’s where the joke came from.

      The thing is, I really do believe that EDI and Joker are inspired by the AI and the engineer from Andromeda. There are a lot (a lot) of correlations between the two. Personally, I think EDI has a better story behind her and a better personality to boot, EDI is the more believable character. I wouldn’t be surprised too if eventually EDI got a set of android bodies. So that EDI could be both the ship and the crew, and EDI could accompany people on away missions in that manner. I’d actually be delighted if I could take android EDI with me on missions in Mass Effect 2.

      Anyway, hopefully that’s cleared that up.

      “Like I said, my difficulty with the Geth was their switch from being a techno-peril, folly-of-man metaphor in the first game to a racism metaphor in the second.”

      They didn’t, though, did they? Perhaps this is where our perceptions diverge, and I’ll do my best to explain the thoughts I have in my head.

      First of all, as I recall it was implied at the end of the first game that they were slaves of Sovereign, to a degree, or something very much like that. So what I got from it all wasn’t racism, I never saw that, but more that they had been reprogrammed, brainwashed, basically, like what the Reapers had done to the Protean race. That is what the Reapers do, after all. They capture and they then retrofit races to suit their needs. They did it to the Proteans, they did it to the Geth, and the Collectors were going to do it to human kind, too, turning them into a gigantic Reaper.

      Actually, this is why I had no issues ethically with keeping them alive in Legion’s mission, because I felt that instead of brainfucking them, I was actually instead unfucking them, and giving them freedom of will again so that they could make their own choices. That’s what I got from all of it.

      “Like, how did they get in there during the crash? And how come they were the only things to survive when I blew up the crates?”

      Very good questions which I can’t answer.

      *thinks.*

      No, I have nothing that wouldn’t be lame. That was a bit silly, wasn’t it?

    • Vinraith says:

      @Wulf

      You misunderstand me. *I* think the Geth thing is an interesting moral dilemma, but my Shephard wouldn’t. They’re a threat, you eliminate threats, end of discussion.

      EDI though… on EDI my Shephard and I completely agree, and it’s really about power. EDI is an artificial being who is smarter than anyone on that ship and fully capable of running the thing by herself. Quite simply: she doesn’t need us. For anything. Sooner or later this is going to occur to her and the next time an order she disagrees with comes down she’s simply not going to follow it. Giant, heavily armored, heavily armed space ships with minds of their own are a BAD THING.

    • bleeters says:

      @Vinraith

      That, and EDI was designed based on technology recovered from Sovereign. She’s essentially reaper-tech. This is either going to end very well or very badly.

    • Wulf says:

      I’ve seen people before express fear at becoming the obsolete/outdated/irrelevant life-form, compared to something that would be the next step up on the evolutionary chain. The transhumanist response to this is that we’ll upgrade and augment ourselves, but then there’s the ‘Iron Giant’ response wherein if it’s superior to us then it must therefore be malign and nefarious, evil to the core.

      The transhumanist would say that there’s no reason to believe one way or the other without evidence, since an AI could find the challenges of being a benign creature, one that aids instead of harms, more stimulating and rewarding than that of evil acts, and we’d really only know for sure by seeing the results first-hand. The philosophy here, and perhaps the wisdom, is that just because something is capable of performing an action or behaving in a certain way, just because that capability exists, it doesn’t necessarily mean they will.

      Every one of us here is a completely capable killer, we could run around killing ‘animals’ that aren’t as strong as us, this would include humans alongside our quadrupedal friends. Some do! That predatory urge is there within every person. In some cases, it’s justifiable, the need to provide fuel for our bodies, so we hunt herbivores, but in others it’s just hunting for the sake of it. Some of us don’t, though, and we turn that side of ourselves to virtual efforts. Games. But we’re still completely capable of it.

      If an AI was in charge of ship systems it wouldn’t make that much difference to if a human was, and you simply have to trust that they have the same urges to do the ethical thing that you do, rather than go crazy. A helmsman could wrap the ship around an asteroid, someone in charge of life control could just turn it off, a gunner could start a war (for fun, see Babylon 5) or overload the ship’s weapons, an engineer could damage the core of the ship and have it leak deadly radiation, and so on. Every person aboard could snap and be the cause for the death of every other person on board.

      It’s hard to see that though, because an AI tends to make humans feel irrelevant, people naturally attribute negative aspects to AI and positive ones to humans and familiar elements, without realising that both are equally as capable of as much good or evil, both are capable of being ethical or nefarious. We shouldn’t assume that an AI will be automatically maleficent just because they exist or because how they were built, otherwise we might as well buy into racism or any other system of arbitrarily assigning guilt to a creature that hasn’t done anything to warrant it. People still do this today and it irritates me because it’s backwards thinking, the kind of thing that will slow our race down. Some look at a wolf and say it looks evil, and therefore could only be capable of evil things. I say it looks different, and could be capable of anything that any animal is (incuding us).

      So again, we come back to the Iron Giant scenario. With the Iron Giant (yes, the movie), it only reacted negatively to weaponry and threats, it was almost like a test sent to determine the fate of humanity. If they did nothing to threaten it, if they treated it with respect, then they’d have an ardent protector, someone who’d look after them until they were at a point where they could travel the sea of stars themselves. The other possibility of course is that they’d look upon something different and see it as evil (as some of them did), and in doing so they’d bring about the doom of the entire race. I suppose this makes sense, because if our race is the sort that would completely obliterate another just because we don’t like how it looks, then galactic society probably isn’t going to really be very ready to accept us. They might choose to instead imprison us, for their good and ours.

      Now how do I apply this to EDI? She’s built on Reaper tech, she’s an AI, and none of this matters at all. What does matter is how EDI behaves, and what she chooses to do, and indeed the way in which she chooses to do things. As it stands, what I have seen thus far is that she cares about the crew. She even cared enough about the mental health of Joker to tell jokes. She cared enough to risk her very sense of self to hack a Collector ship to give the crew a chance to escape. She cared enough to risk herself for the biological races (that hated AI) from the Collectors and went through the Omega-4 relay. She clearly doesn’t consider herself as more important than the organic life on board.

      The relationship between EDI and Joker tells me that EDI believes that the presence of humans is not only vital, but necessary. She helped to bring back the crew too, after all. Also, her relationship with Joker seems to say that there are things she doesn’t grasp, and there are things she wants to learn from humanity. She has a healthy degree of respect, admiration, and who knows, possibly even love for our witty helmsman, if you follow through on all their interactions (as I did), then you see this blossom, and EDI says a few times–as plainly as she’s able–that she really needs Joker. Later in the game, after she’s been unlocked from her prison, she comes out and says that much more plainly.

      If no one else, she’s going to continue to need Joker, and she understands the relationships between crew members. I believe that she’s also capable of understand that some creatures (be they organic or mechanical) are suited to making decisions, and she might acknowledge that Captain Shepard makes some pretty damn good decisions (this is something that Legion seems to have acknowledged as well, and apparently admires). So what I get from this is that the ship’s computer sees the crew as an entity to be respected, there’s a lot of heroism there, a lot of selfessness, and a lot of hard decisions to be made by Shepard… and in seeing that, and Joker’s sacrifice, it further inspired EDI to do the same.

      That’s one thing I like about the Normandy. They’re a crew of very self-sacrificing people, they do the hard things so that no one else has to, and yet they all ways pull out of it alive, because they’re the perfect people to do so. It’s my belief that EDI will recognise the need and necessity of having selfless humans on board, even if only as a check against her own sense of ethics, to have different ideas and opinions floating around, and to have the input of creatures she clearly respects and wishes to keep alive.

      For these reasons, I believe there’s more evidence to say that EDI will turn out to be a benign, ethical AI than anything else. Perhaps in your story you mistreated her a lot and she behaved differently, but in my story she was a member of the crew. It didn’t matter that she was an AI, it didn’t matter that she was connected to the ship, because she proved herself by being just as ethical and self-sacrificing as anyone else on that crew, and possibly more so, since she had more to lose than anyone else on that crew.

      What I mean by that is that EDI is a young AI, and it would be like asking a human to throw its life away at a very young age. Knowing the things that we may yet see and experience, how many of us would have, at a young age, thrown ourselves in front of a bullet to save another? That’s just what EDI did, despite being young.

      In my opinion, that AI has a very bright future indeed.

  8. westyfield says:

    “If you simply power through the game, without doing any loyalty missions or any extraneous talking, I dare say you could do it in about the length of a normal shooter. Then, since you’re entirely unprepared, in the end-game would see your whole crew gets wiped out and your Shepherd dying, falling to the death after the destruction of the Collectors is ensured.”

    I recently convinced a friend to buy Mass Effect, and he powered through it in a weekend without doing any sidemissions. I fully expect him to do the same when he gets ME2, and I’m curious to see how he’ll react when everyone dies.

    I understand the points about the sense of urgency or lack thereof, I felt the same as I was playing – I did absolutely everything before grabbing the IFF, and then immediately (after doing Legion’s mission – there’s still time for that) rushed off to save the crew (and the galaxy, but whatever – Kelly’s life was at stake!).
    I only lost one team member (Jacob), and felt pretty bad afterwards, because it was clearly my fault (chose the wrong person for the job), but it didn’t hit me as much as Kaidan’s death in ME1. I think that’s because when Kaidan died, there were still a few hours of game left, and everyone was all “oh crap, Kaidan’s dead, this is serious”, whereas in ME2, the game ended and there’s no reaction to it, save Shepard standing over his coffin in the final scene.
    In short – the game needs to react more. If everyone else is shocked, the player (at least, I) will feel empathise with them, so the devs can better choose how people will react.

    • Mr Labbes says:

      I found the Ashley/Kaidan death rather forced, though. Basically, Kirrahe said “One of your characters is going to die, just pick whom”. ME2 disguised it only a bit as well, but enough to fool me that Mordin would be the man to go through the ducts. Sadface.

  9. Tom-INH says:

    I finished this a couple of days ago too actually, having left it til it came down in price, and I saved everyone apart from the engineers, ‘cos I think I dithered a bit before heading off. I didn’t even realise that it was possible to lose squad members though, until I read through some stuff about it online. The choices I’d made at the end seemed like the most sensible options, and being a seasoned Bioware RPG player I’d made sure I’d completed every side mission and researched almost every tech. I felt like I’d missed out somehow, even though I was pleased that I’d made all the right decisions.

    Also, no mention of Giant Evil Robot Monster? I’m guessing that’ll be in Part 2.

  10. Sagan says:

    I played exactly like you and my Zaeed survived. I was a little confused by this, but then I did a bit of research before writing a comment, and it turns out, that there is a dialogue choice in his loyalty mission that will secure his loyalty even if you save the workers. Guess I chose that, and because of that Zaeed survived in the final mission when I sent him back with the crew.

    I was also a little disappointed with the outcome of the final mission. Because I had heard in advance that you will have to make hard decisions and that characters will die. Well I found the decisions to be easy and my characters didn’t die.

    • Easydog says:

      Yeah, I was a little confused by that as well, because I had secured Zaeed’s loyalty and forced him to rescue the workers. Zaeed still died though, turns out he should not lead the second ambush/wave thing. There are lots of unmentioned variables in that final mission which can only be a good thing.

      Tali died as well. Considering she wasn’t talking to my Shepard after the first game I was suprised she would forgive me so easily. She wasn’t talking to me at the end of the second either, so I wasn’t that put out when she took a rocket to the face. When I tell her ‘I know best’ she should listen. Or get a rocket in the face. There’s a lesson there.

  11. Brumisator says:

    Hmmm, I still haven’t started ME2…

    • westyfield says:

      So did you just read through a page of massive spoilers, then sit back and go “DAMMIT!”?

    • Brumisator says:

      Of course not, I just noticed lots of people write posts with lots of words.

      Apparently mass effect is the Videogame equivalent of Nietzsche, everyone having long, pointless, metaphysical discussions about it.

    • Mario Figueiredo says:

      >> Apparently mass effect is the Videogame equivalent of Nietzsche, everyone having long, pointless, metaphysical discussions about it.

      I have played it already and I can’t share the majority of the feelings here. Certainly not the emotional depth displayed. To me ME2 was not a good game. I didn’t like it at all. But I wish I did, because the kind of emotional attachment they are discussing here is part of what I expect from my games.

      ME2 was also a game that proved to me I have a problem with action games. I cannot seem to effectively play them. I find the controls awkward and I cannot use my usual WASD setup on them in which the mouse buttons are used for moving forward and backpedaling, while W and S are used for jumping and ducking.

      The fault is as much mine as it is the game’s. Mine because obviously I have a limitation here that I am not being able to deal with. The game’s because action games control setups are too rigid and not very friendly to deeper key configurations. These games flaw seems to utter contempt for people who might have trouble with the controls. They over complicate controls with too many keys and too many functions.

    • westyfield says:

      @ Mario

      Yeah, the controls were awful in ME2. Especially with regards to space being THREE different actions depending on context.

    • Hidden_7 says:

      Brumistator: If you haven’t played the game nor read the conversations, how do you know they are pointless? Further, why Nietzsche? He didn’t do any metaphysics of substance, if I’m getting my facts straight. Really, he’s more of an ethical philosophy, ethics being probably the most practical, and thus pointed philosophy you can get (since it directly concerns how you should act).

      Mario: Those are some odd controls, but I find it bizarre that you can’t remap them to your liking. I know you can remap keys in ME2, can you just not remap them enough? Also is it primary the control scheme that is keeping you from enjoying ME2, or are you not liking the rest of the game (i.e. the talking bits) much either?

    • Mario Figueiredo says:

      I always have trouble explaining, I think. Maybe my English isn’t so good, or I simply don’t know exactly what the problem is. But essentially this isn’t about a lack of key redefinition features. It is about a key setup that I use that isn’t compatible with the vastly different usage of the keyboard that is expected on these games.

      What I feel is that actions games of the 2000s, introduced too many keys. I’m getting older and less skilled at games. It’s just how it is. So this is already an impediment for a good experience in action games. But I also always used that altered WASD setup I speak above for my FPSs, which clearly is now being a pain to adapt to these games. That setup is not compatible with current action games. The traditional WASD setup is, because players are used to center a lot of their game movement activity on the left hand. It feels to me these games controls developed from that traditional WASD setup. So it’s ok for players who always used it. But for others who got used to make exclusive use of the mouse for movement, no key mapping helps. I need to go back on what is already 2 decades of an habit and relearn from scratch. I tried and honestly I can’t. This has also affected me on Just Cause 2, for instance. My 12 year old daughter runs around me in circles in that game.

      I also criticize the extensive use of the keyboard though. There’s too many actions. Some could clearly be thought over and simplified or even removed. I mean, I feel like a puppeteer in these games manning some overly complex puppet. I can’t accept that the difficult level of these games is first determined by how you adapt to the controls and only then by the bloody difficult setting on the game? I’m not hopeless for pete’s sake. I have fragged more arses in this lifetime than Stalin.

      Note: Not that I’m completely useless on action games. I’m just not good enough, which forces me to play on easy settings, has me getting killed more often than not, clearly displays my ineptitude most of the time by having an hard time doing certain tasks and, of course, eventually robs me of any interest in the game.

  12. The_B says:

    So now you’ve played it Kieron, I’m going to pre-empt the question that will no doubt come through formspring: if the RPS hivemind were Mass Effect 2 teammates, which would they be?

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      The_B: Tricky. Off top of head…

      Jim: Thane Krios
      Alec: Tali.
      John: Jack
      Me: Grunt.

      And no-one’s being Mordin, as he’s the one everyone would want to be. These don’t exactly hook up that well either.

      KG

    • Rinox says:

      Isn’t Alec a biologist…doesn’t that,make him semi-entitled to Mordinhood?

    • Fede says:

      @Rinox: I think KG is the biologist, not Alec.

    • Rinox says:

      In that case, I apologize for my blasphemy

    • Jonas says:

      I think what I’m taking away from these “RPS as fictional characters” lists is that Jim is the incredibly badass straight man.

    • somnolentsurfer says:

      Really? Walker is the genocide-by-crashing-a-spacestation type? Wow.

    • Kid A says:

      Yeah, but he cried about it afterwards.

  13. nine says:

    My backseat game designer suggestion: make loyalty harder to get. Make the things you have to do to gain loyalty much more distateful, like Zaeed’s one. Less loyalty translates into more death in the end game, and that’s good.

    • Ragnar says:

      And there should be conflicting goals of your companions. To gain loyalty from one might very well mean losing loyalty from another.

    • FunkyBadger says:

      That can happen at least twice, Ragnar.

    • ReV_VAdAUL says:

      But if your paragon or renegade is high enough you can defuse all those situations and keep the loyalty of both characters. Anthony Burch did a rev rant about that which was pretty good.

    • Ragnar says:

      @Badger: No, what happens is that I press the “become loyal button” (a.k.a Paragon/Renegade choice).

    • FunkyBadger says:

      Ragnar: some people are never happy ;-) I lost Miranda’s loyalty the first time I played through and never regained it. Second time through I planned strategically so I’d get the best result on al those choices.

    • perilisk says:

      My backseat designer suggestion — rather than focusing on the relationship of your party members and you in loyalty missions, focus on their relationship with each other. Particularly with a smaller cast, each mission could involve most of your team — two in combat roles, the rest providing some form of support or just interacting on the ship or noncombat zone. Instead of loyalty missions, let each mission replace the ship upgrade aspect, focusing on you getting auxiliary resources you need to complete your mission without getting everyone killed.

      It just seemed like a huge missed opportunity — there were two key scenes with Tali/Legion and Miranda/Jack, but that was all (I was actually pretty shocked that Tali didn’t have words for me as soon as I wanted to reactivate Legion). No conflict between Samara and, say, Jack or Thane. No exploration of the enmity between Cerberus personnel and Tali. No animosity between Mordin and Grunt. No budding romances or sexual tension between anyone but your chosen crew member and yourself.

      It would also be nice to get a clearer picture of why they care about your mission in the first place (aside from Cerberus personnel, of course). The collectors initially seem to be a purely human problem, and Jack is the only other human (and Jack doesn’t seem like the “sacrificing your life for other people” sort) on your crew. If the mission paid well, was a good cause, and was moderate risk, that might be one thing — but they’re being asked to go on a suicide mission. Even the ties of old friendship might not be enough to make that deal work. Yet everyone you meet almost immediately hops on board as soon as you help them deal with their initial problem.

    • Jesse says:

      Perilisk: I’d be glad if Bioware took you on as a consultant for the next game.

    • bleeters says:

      Generally speaking, the various characters that join up with you do have a reason for doing so despite them not being human; Mordin is quietly guilt ridden over his genophage work, and looking for a way to make up for that. Thane’s dying and wants to put his last days to best possible use, protecting as many innocents as possible. Grunt meanwhile has no real purpose – one fight is as good as the next, and he has a grudging respect for you provided you don’t kill him. So on and so forth.

      And Garrus? For me, him and my Shepard were practically joined at the hip. Later, we were actually joined at the hip, but the less said about that the better. He was never going anywhere.

      Point being, they’ve generally all got a decent enough reason for joining up in the first place.

    • somnolentsurfer says:

      @Ragnar
      I used the “become loyal button” on Miranda after she was being a dick to Jack and, yes, she became loyal, but she was no longer romanceable. Also, I felt I’d betrayed myself for using the button, and that itself was quite emotional. I had to use my paragon skill to lie to her, when actually she’d been a dick, and I wanted to tell her so.

    • Rich says:

      “The salarians are amphibian haplo-diploid egg-layers; unfertilized eggs produce males and fertilized eggs produce females. Once a year, a salarian female will lay a clutch of dozens of eggs. Social rules prevent all but a fraction from being fertilized. As a result, 90% of the species is male.”

      From the ME wiki, which I think was transcribed directly from the codex. It goes some way to say why we only see male salarians. No idea if Krogan or Turian females look any different, or if we’ve actually seen any.

      Tom OBedlam: That’s interesting. That’s exactly the kind of back-story tidbit I look forward to stumbling across when I eventually get ME2.

    • Rich says:

      Bah! The worst kind of reply fail. That was intended for an entirely different discussion.

  14. DollarOfReactivity says:

    Lovely thoughts. I agree with your premise on the emotional impact of the ending, but I assume in some way this is tied to the fact that this is part 2 of 3 for the ME story. It makes sense from the developer’s point of view to let people who will build attachment to their crew carry them forward so the next game can be richer for it. Those who play recklessly and get them killed off probably won’t mind as much in ME3 when random new crew appears.

    Also, and I am the only person on multiple sites to feel this way apparently, but I loved Zaaed. After picking him up I took him on most of the missions. If you remember to go back and press him every few missions he actually has quite a few things to say. In part it’s because I despised him at first and resented having to take him as part of my crew. But he grew on me and when he died leading the team on the last mission (the only person I lost), I was quite put-out.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      I quite like Zaaed – the problem was really just the fact it didn’t feel like you were interacting with him. Sitting there and being lectured outside of a tree doesn’t feel the same. The way the game presented him made him feel “lesser”.

      KG

    • DollarOfReactivity says:

      @Kieron
      Ah, I can see that. I guess after his loyalty mission, to me Zaaed seemed the best grounded of the lot – one of the few main crew that didn’t want to bed me, kill me, commit genocide, or commit suicide.

      Oh, and while I never felt the same emotional impact as when Kaidan/Ashley died in ME1, what they did with Tali was great in the other direction. Exactly what I hoped for after ME1, I wasn’t even tempted by anyone else’s advances. :) That and sad Garrus. Really wanted to give him a hug and patch that armor.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      And he didn’t even want to kill everyone else in the world, like Grunt.

      KG

    • Mungrul says:

      Yeah, considering Zaeed was the “Bonus extra character for official first-time buyers!”, much like Shale in Dragon Age, I was at least expecting a character as engaging as Shale. Unfortunately, he ended up simply feeling tacked-on. His introduction especially was particularly ham-fisted and shallow. A shame, as I think he had a lot of potential, and had one of the more interesting voice actors. A bit like Dirty Den in space.

  15. Rich says:

    It’s funny how many alien species seem to be capable of sex with humans. You’d think in an infinite universe, bumping into one you can do it with is going to be pretty unlikely.

    Also, as Asari are clearly not mammals, what with their reproductive cycle, why do they all have mammaries?

    Honestly, how am I supposed to take this kind of thing seriously?

    • westyfield says:

      That is entirely not the point.

    • Tei says:

      Real aliens are… aliens, and by definition are not like us, different and (probably) imposible to understand.

      You need to use humanoids, and human language (to be more precise: westerner languaje, since theres differences inside the human language that the westerner will not get) so the public can understand the character.
      If all the characters where like the Vorlon on Babylon 5, the public would not understand anything. You absolutelly want to show then a “Pet-Universe”, a universe that the public can understand, on this Pet-Universe you have to use humanoids with westerner traits.

      Is a limit on storytelling. Even a decent (or genius) writter will be unable to really use or show something true alien.

      Note: Part of ourselves are also alien to us, so we can’t look there either.

      To be honest, the universe of things a writter can use is very limited. Thats probably why is soo easy to predict where the story will follow.

    • Tei says:

      Addendun:

      And then you have things like Morrowind, that is less popular than Oblivium, because Oblivium is inside the confort zone, and Morrowind is out here, on a alien-ish world.

    • AndrewC says:

      Oh gosh, how about some really alien aliens in ME3 – like, an arachnid, a gas, and the abstract concept of Grachnorrh – and their loyalty quests involve working out how to stick it in them?

    • FunkyBadger says:

      Tei: Go read Lem, particularly, Solaris, Eden and Fiasco. NOW!

    • Tei says:

      FunkyBadger:
      I could read that Lem books. But thats not the point. The point is not my, but the limits on storytelling.

    • FunkyBadger says:

      Tei: the point is, in all those books, that the unknowable remains so because, as you point out, its alien, innit.

    • westyfield says:

      “You’d think in an infinite universe, bumping into one you can do it with is going to be pretty unlikely.”

      Also, I think I should add that in an infinite universe, there should be an infinite number of species, so the probability of meeting one that you can do it with should be one.

    • Wulf says:

      I can actually relate to this to a degree, since I found the Asari mammary glands a little… odd. I didn’t really care about the Asari as a race though, so I happily ignored it, it probably would’ve bothered me more had I seen a female Turian and it looked just like Garrus but with a slightly more slender figure and boobs. Now thaaaat would have thrown me for a loop.

      The thing is though, I’ve been a little desensitised because nothing… and I stress nothing can be as bad as what happened to the Khajiit and the Argonians in Oblivion.

      I shall recite my reaction: “Good lord, what did they DO to you? The Khajiit and the Argonians! They’re uncanny valley mutants, with nary an endearing feature. They look like something Moreau might create, an animal head stitched to a human body! Those bastards! Those cruel, uncaring, callous bastards!

      Or something like that, anyway.

      In the pre-Fallout 3 era, Bethesda was kind of crap at animation and modelling, they got progressively worse until Fallout 3 came along, too. We all know this is true. The horse animations, the horrible horse animations the community had to fix. The terribly awful swimming animations. The jumping animations with acrobatics… and so on. I was quite pleased at least though that in Morrowind the Khajiit looked passably feline, and the Argonians looked passably lizard-like. The attention to detail was also nice, what with the flat chested females, which would make sense for cats and lizards.

      This built up my hopes for seeing proper Khajiit and Argonians in Oblivion. Was that ever a let down. I cringed every time I saw a female Argonian, I cringed a lot.

      This, in fact, lead to a theory coined between a group of friends and I. The Argonians and the Khajiit, to fit into Imperial high society, wanted to look more human like. So they did a number of things to achieve this: they underwent severe bone reconstruction, having their legs broken and reshaped, they put on gloves which made their paws look more human, they wore human clothes, and the females stuffed melons into those clothes.

      Buuuut… I really don’t care about the Asari in the same way that I care about the Khajiit and Argonians, like I said. So… I was able to accept them easily as being metaphorically alien, in the same sort of way that Star Trek has aliens. They have knobbly heads, and that’s that. I didn’t give them much attention, as I was far more taken with the Turians, the Krogans, the Geth, and so on, since they actually really looked quite alien.

    • Sprint says:

      Tei: I sometimes think it’s a shame that games don’t use non-western languages as the prominent other language in games and have a few NPCs explain some of it. It would be probably be a great way for people to learn the basics and get their head around how they’re structured differently to english, it would also save devs the trouble of having to create a new one from scratch. It’s harder to do in a sci-fi setting obviously but I still think it’s a missed oppertunity.

    • Hidden_7 says:

      Wulf: Have you played Daggerfall? I’d guess not (which is fine, because it’s old and doesn’t really stand up anymore). However, there is a perfectly in canon explanation for at least the Khajiit. The ones seen in Morrowind and the ones seen in Oblivion (and the ones in Daggerfall) are all different Khajiit. The form they take varies depending on the lunar cycle they were born under. As such, they run the whole gambit of cat-men, with some being basically intelligent house cats, while others you could easily mistake for human (well… elf).

      Personally I still kinda miss the Daggerfall Khajiit. I don’t really want to be playing a full on animal man, but the Daggerfall Khajiit were human like, with a few animal like features to differentiate them. Like playing an elf versus an orc.

      In any case, I don’t know what’s up with the Argonian. Their Oblivion appearance is probably closer to their Daggerfall one than the Morrowind one was (which was a decent bit more animalistic) but there’s no in-canon explanation for that, just changing art direction I guess.

      Re: Asari Mammary glands
      They aren’t mammals with their reproductive cycles, but they DO give birth (at least I’m pretty sure they do), they just don’t get knocked up normally. They could very easily have a use for those mammary glands.

      Personally what bugged me about the Asari is that they were supposed to be an all-female (or ungendered, but, clearly, female) race, which would be neat, if practically every other alien race wasn’t de facto one gender as well. You only ever see make Turians and Salarians and Krogans (though we’re told there ARE females, we just don’t see them) and only see male Quarians in ME2. So the Asari became less the all-female race, and more the girl alien.

    • Tom OBedlam says:

      Huh… I took the Asari’s appearance as a bit of an oddity in the first game which I thought ME2 explained quite coherently. The drunk guys out for the Salarian’s stag do mention that they all think the Asari looks like their species and one of them says “maybe they look like whatever you want them to look like”. That would explain why they have such a human form to us, the gamers, as we’re playing as a human character. Perhaps to the Salarians their head tentacles appear more like the Salarian horns?

    • Rich says:

      “The salarians are amphibian haplo-diploid egg-layers; unfertilized eggs produce males and fertilized eggs produce females. Once a year, a salarian female will lay a clutch of dozens of eggs. Social rules prevent all but a fraction from being fertilized. As a result, 90% of the species is male.”

      From the ME wiki, which I think was transcribed directly from the codex. It goes some way to say why we only see male salarians. No idea if Krogan or Turian females look any different, or if we’ve actually seen any.

      Tom OBedlam: That’s interesting. That’s exactly the kind of back-story tidbit I look forward to stumbling across when I eventually get ME2.

      Sorry about the double post, but this was were it was meant to go.

    • Wulf says:

      @Hidden 7

      I actually have, though! I remember romping around in endless, randomly generated plains, getting involved in politics, and feeling quite gleeful when I became infected with lycanthropy, more so when there were researchers trying to figure out what lycanthropy was, and pointing out that it might not be the evil curse everyone believes it to be (this happened in books within the game).

      The thing is though is that I know there’s a canon explanation, but I don’t buy it, at all. The canon explanation is like… you know that episode of Deep Space 9 where they went back in time to The Original Series, and they then pretended like Klingons didn’t have bumps on their head at one point, and that it was an embarrassing thing they didn’t like to talk about? Well, it’s like that. I mean, it’s funny, sure, but it crosses my suspension of disbelief just a bit too much. It’s one of those things that’s just a bit too silly, even for me.

      In Oblivion, they had to make all races use the same skeleton, there was no canon reason for it originally. They admitted as much somewhere (I think it was on the forums), and then they sort of jury-rigged the lore into it, twisting it a bit to make it fit the visual appearance of the Khajiit and Argonians there. Except that didn’t really click for me, it was like Klingon forehead bumps, it felt like it was forced, it felt like they were making excuses, it didn’t feel valid to me. But this is one of those situations where your mileage will vary.

      And as I recall the Daggerfall Khajiit were actually completely human, they were on the most human end of the scale, even. The only thing differentiating them from the other human races was a simple tail. This felt a bit lazy/xenophobic to me, so I played an Argonian instead! To each their own though, you know? Everyone’s going to have their own stake on this, but I prefer to play things as far away from humanity as possible for escapism. Shining collectives of bodyless intelligence (wisps), robots, animal-people, big bestial creatures (like Grunt), and whatnot. Things that let me imagine something a bit different, a bit exotic.

      Also, speaking of the Argonians, they also had no reason really as to why the Argonians lost all of their physical attributes. So the only truth there for me (which won’t be the same as for you) is that they didn’t want to include more than one skeleton for the races, they got a bit lazy. Bethesda was like that back then, though, but they seem to have mended their ways a bit, since. I think it was probably all the people doing animation mods and shaming them for all the shoddy animation in their games. Mind you, there are still a couple of flimsy animations in Fallout 3, which the community improved upon, but Bethesda are getting better at this.

      I don’t blame them though, and I like Bethesda games. I liked Oblivion. But I liked it a lot because of the mods and the open-ended nature of it. Their work ethic was to basically create an open-ended world and jam it with content, and everything else played second (or third, fourth, or fifth) fiddle to that. That meant that they were games filled to the brim with content, and the problems left over were issues that the community could fix because the games were open-ended and modifiable. I respect that. I can respect that they might not have the time and the resources to flesh out lesser, more minor aspects of the game, compared to story and content.

      But still… that doesn’t remove the night horrors I beheld when I saw the Khajiit and Argonians for the first time. THE HORROR. And I can never unsee that, now. Those uncanny valley critters will forever be stuck in my brain. I was glad the werewolf mod came along later, that way I just picked an everyday spod and turned them into a werewolf. All better!

      And finally, in regard to Asari: I don’t know if you’re confusing things a bit, there. For example, a shark can give birth and even uses an umbilical cord (no, really, I’m not lying, look it up!) but a shark doesn’t need mammary glands in order to cater to their young. What I’m getting at here is that only a mammal should need mammary glands, and the shark example is the perfect example. Otherwise we’d have sharks with bewbs, and that would be fairly strange.

      As for the races and genders… hm. There are actually female quarians, lots of them. I remember talking to as many females as I did males on the Migrant Fleet, so they were there. I can’t really say anything else about the others though because you’re right.

      @Tom

      Ha! Maybe you’re right. Then again though, if that’s true then they certainly wouldn’t look like oversexed human females to me because that’s not what I want, I mean, I can understand a lot of average, straight male gamers wanting that though and they went for the generic option. It’s also interesting though that they don’t change gender if you’re playing as a female Shepard (which I did, rare thing for me to do but I wanted to romance Garrus).

      It is a viable explanation though, but it would be more so if they changed the gender of the Asari people for female Sheps.

  16. Ragnar says:

    Mass Effect 2 was a sore disappointment to me. I liked ME1 rather well, but ME2 just didn’t cut it. Almost everything was worse (except perhaps the actual fighting). And most importantly the main arc story was completely rubbish ( see Shamus Young’s analysis on the topic: http://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=7004 ). And although some of the companions were interesting, there was a lack of focus with there being too many companions and you are only able to scratch a little bit on the surface on the interesting characters. I have not managed to do a second playthrough.

    • Ragnar says:

      Also: It disturbs me that there is close to zero interaction between my companions. They spread out on the ship as far apart from each other and almost never talk.

    • DollarOfReactivity says:

      @Ragnar
      On crew interaction – yeah, that would have been nice. We didn’t even get much of the yelling at each other in the conference room. It seems they should have some effect on each other, like gaining loyalty of one pisses off someone else more significantly.

      Versus ME1, I also thought they sacrificed things unnecessarily, like the airlock scenes. Why can’t I use my airlock?! I guess I understand the elevators and inventory and skill changes, but transitions were poorer. But in some way for me it is also warming to the ME concept. I enjoyed my 2nd ME1 playthrough much more than the first. Now that I know what to expect from ME I felt ME2 was a more “standard” experience.

    • Mr Labbes says:

      I would argue that ME2 did nearly everything better than the first one. On a superficial level, the graphics as well as the soundtrack have vastly improved (it also didn’t cause any bugs for me). On a mechanical level, the shooting is far far better, the fights feel much more visceral and “immediate”.
      Arguably, the story is not as “epic” and does not have the feel of urgency the first one had and it lacks a proper villain, so to speak. It’s the middle part of a trilogy though, and they’ve always had weaker plots, at least in my opinion.
      The characters were much more refined than most were in the first one (Ashley, Liara, Kaidan – I’m looking at you here!), I could take my favorite characters from ME1 with me again (Garrus and Tali), there were great (Wrex) and flat (Liara) cameo appearances, but overall, I think the characters were far more diverse and interesting.
      I also quite liked the “heroic action” system, which brough some unpredictability into the talks.
      Last but not least, you can color your armor, get some pets, have great chats with the two engineers, play poker, and you can play as Joker!
      This might sound fanboy-ish, but I really do not understand what was not improved over ME1, apart from the story. Care to elaborate?

      PS: It’s also much funnier than the first one, thanks to EDI and Joker, but also because of the various gags on the citadel.

    • DollarOfReactivity says:

      @Mr Labbes
      To pitch my 2c on that last question, (though I think both ME 1&2 are great) I thought the immersion suffered in ME2. Partly what I said about airlocks and transitions, but also just the general feeling that I was just teleporting from my [ship block of rooms] to [mission block of rooms] and instantly back once objective is complete.

      In ME1 going to a planet felt like you were landing on an alien planet with weather and strange atmospheres and sky. Boarding a derelict ship felt like you were on a little boxy cargo ship in space. The Citadel felt kinda large. Most of the levels in ME2 feel just like small linear corridor levels. Not bad, but not quite as good as ME1, plus I liked the Mako, mostly ;)

      And maybe it bothered me more in ME2 because the graphic quality was overall better, but the environments tend to feel sterile. Other than some gag ads and news, most locations don’t have much to admire. Maybe it’s the art direction or a limitation of the engine, but the environments always felt rather sparsely populated, with just enough props and locations to fit mission utility, but not give the illusion of a true, living location.

    • Mr Labbes says:

      We both mourn the loss of the airlock, I really liked the “XO Pressly has the deck” – on that note, who was XO when Shepard and Miranda were both off the ship? Joker?
      Anyway, while I must agree that the Citadel was downgraded to a shopping mall, and that is a sad thing.
      On the other hand, I really felt some sense of location in both Tuchanka, and even more Omega – blame it on Vampire Bloodlines that I just love a good night club.
      Illium was not more than a hub, which is rather sad, and considering how much background Omega received, I don’t think I know much about the asari colony.
      In the ME2 documentary, some dev said that they tried to enhance the character of each location by giving it different lightings. As far as I’m concerned, that worked rather well, but I think I’m easy to please here.

      The mako is another case, where before I played the game, I wondered why they replaced it instead of improving it. While playing, though, I didn’t miss it nearly as much as I thought I would, which probably has something to do with the shooting being so much fun.

      Seeing how you weren’t so pleased with the levels, what did you think about Jacob’s loyalty mission? Of course, it was a corridor, but I really liked the design and it gave me all kinds of good memories (mostly Macross, Kotor and Lord of the Flies).

    • DollarOfReactivity says:

      Oh I had forgotten about Jacob’s mission. yes, that was good story and level-wise. Also the mission in the mists (if a little repetitive), and on the precariously crashed starship were unique environments that more levels should have been like.

      I wondered if maybe some of that openness was cut from most places in ME2. On Tuchanka especially I felt like there might have been more planned (with those rover/APC things), and surely they could have put more of the Citadel in there. You’re right though, Tuchanka had a good sense of place (and I like visiting a Wrex who seemed to have handled the intervening time better than everyone else).

      With all the reworking between 1 & 2, I have high hopes 3 will iron out some of these issues. I did like the combat much more (although I hope they work on the squad positioning interface more), and being able to wander around more of the Normandy, even if just because it has to hold all the random crew you can collect. Also buying stuff for my stateroom was a nice touch. I fantasize that more games will give me the Oblivion level of hoarding/home decorating.

    • Ragnar says:

      @Mr Labbes

      Seeing how you weren’t so pleased with the levels, what did you think about Jacob’s loyalty mission? Of course, it was a corridor, but I really liked the design and it gave me all kinds of good memories (mostly Macross, Kotor and Lord of the Flies).

      Jacob’s loyalty mission was above average. It was on the short side and should have a bit more backstory and details, but on the whole ok.

      As for what’s wrong? Apart from the obvius things (lack of Mako, tedious mini-games) you should really read that piece by Shamus Young I linked to. It is the main problem I have with the game. ME2 would have been much better without a main story at all. There was so much they could have done with the story. Instead of yet another completely villainous race (oh, and mark my word, there will be a nice Collector in ME3 to show that they aren’t all completely evil) they could have used ME2 entirely to make all races rally to the fight against the reapers. Expand on the tension between humans and the rest of the galaxy.

      Also the whole game feel so compartmentalised, where no part has any relation to any other with the only exception being the loyalty status, but that also feels rather contrived. Missions always occur separately from other gameplay.

      Another point is the RPG/FPS-thing. I actually approve of them going in the FPS direction as the RPG elements were rather poor anyway. They should have gone all the way though instead of leaving even more crippled and useless RPG-elements.

      The graphics is better? Sure. But I don’t really care. The art direction in both ME1 and ME2 is rather bland anyway. And the soundtrack I barely noticed in either game.

  17. FunkyBadger says:

    Excellent brainthoughts!

    Still gutted I sent lost Garrus. I shouldn’t have sent him into the tunnels. I let emotions cloud my judgement – I’d only just cleared Tali’s name, and she seemed so fragile compared to him. I made a mistake, and he paid the price.

    I got to the point of begging the machine-gods not to let Mordin fall when he almost toppled off the platform at the end.

    “Look at the dead woman, Mordin. Does she look saved.” – is my curent favourite line of game-dialoguie. Just pipping “You won, Nico. You won.”

  18. snv says:

    Thanks a lot for the spoiler warning.
    Good Style!

  19. Frenz0rz says:

    Excellent article, I’ve been waiting to read a writeup like this on Mass Effect 2 for some time now.

    I also have a confession to make. I lost Legion, Grunt and Mordin in the finale of my first playthrough and, after practically tearing my heart out afterwards for making such stupid, STUPID command decisions, I replayed the final level from the start and managed to save everyone.

    Will it make my story in Mass Effect 3 less meaningful and unique? I really dont know, although I made plenty of thought provoking decisions throughout the game that I hope will give me a wholesome variety of plot twists in the final chapter of the series. The fact is, though, that I simply could not bear to play a Mass Effect 3 without my favourite characters. I mean, no Mordin? Really? Nor Legion? I’d never find out his purpose, or why he wears that armour. And no Grunt to help bring a new future to his people? And that nasty krogan said he’d piss on my grave if I got him killed…

    So in the end, I experienced the heart wrenching moments of losing those characters I’d come to think of as ‘friends’, but I went back and saved them anyway. Maybe that makes me a weak-willed bastard, but I want that first Mass Effect 3 experience to be just as good.

    As an aside, I made a second Shepard (female this time) with the intention of fucking up the game as much as possible without actually ‘losing’ the finale. I even played through ME1 with her first, killing the council intentionally and appointing Udina as counciller just to screw things up even more. Except, I got about halfway through the game, and I just couldnt do it. I could not intentionally kill off every single character. I even tried to kill Samara and take her daughter instead, but this little voice just kept saying “You bastard! What are you doing?! Why do you want this malevolent bitch on your team instead of Samara?”. So I reloaded and killed Morinth instead. In the end I just did the next best thing – didnt release Grunt, shipped Legion off to Cerberus and tried to justify it as not actually killing anyone. Damn, im such a pussy.

    I also tried my own hand at writing an article on ME2 back when I first played it. Im not a brilliant writer, but im trying to improve every week :)
    http://www.teamsao.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=78:why-mass-effect-is-the-future-of-gaming&catid=15:gaming-news&Itemid=39

    • Gunhover says:

      Frenz0rz: Same here man… I lost Thane, Garrus and Miranda on my first play through. I’m such a terrible ME whore that I pre-ordered the ridiculous collector’s edition thing on Steam, but when I saw a rip hit the pirate tubes a week early I downloaded it so I could play sooner. I just couldn’t resist…

      All I had heard at that point was that the last mission was a suicide mission and some of your team were going to die – I didn’t think it was even possible to save them all. So when the game presented decisions like “who gets sent down that dark tunnel to fight dozens of psychotic Collector drones using a rubber band and a megaphone” I intentionally picked the characters I liked the least, and thus those I could afford to lose. It just seemed like it was a choice of who I wanted to sacrifice.

      However, it turned out the game was judging your selections on your competency as a commander, and these obvious suicide missions were not actually obvious suicide missions, they were tests of your ability to pair missions with skill sets. I ended up losing two of my favourite characters because of this misjudgement, so I completed it, but then promptly reloaded back to Omega and jumped through the relay for another shot at it. It took me until 6am on a workday but god damnit I had to… I simply couldn’t leave it be and risk going into Mass Effect 3 without Thane or Garrus playing a part.

      I don’t feel bad or guilty about this at all though, rather I think it’s a testament to Bioware’s character development in this series. I know Garrus isn’t everyone’s favourite but I really liked his character, and I felt like he had been by my side fighting the good fight since the day I first stepped onto the Citadel back in 2007. I’d spent more time talking to him than I have most people I work with, so I wasn’t going to let him be erased from my Mass Effect storyline simply because I judged the ME2 ending system poorly. He deserves better than that. He deserves a chance to finish this thing with me when ME3 rolls around. Even if he does end up dying in ME3, it’ll be a death of dignity and honour and significance. He’s earned that right damnit!

    • westyfield says:

      Hey, I read the article, I’d just like to say good work! I enjoyed reading it!

    • Frenz0rz says:

      Gunhover: Yeah, I wasnt quite sure whether sending someone on such an apparently suicidal mission would automatically get them killed, but as I carried on playing it dawned on me that it was based on making the right command decisions.

      I sent Legion in first simply because, well, he’s not strictly ‘alive’, and even though Tali was in my opinion best for the job, I was sexing her up at the time and really didnt want her to die. Plus he’s a machine, so he should be pretty good at hacking. Its just a shame I bloody well chose Samara of all people to lead the first squad. Miranda suggested they need someone with experience, and I thought “Hey! She’s been alive for hundreds of years, now THATS experience!”. So Legion copped it.

      Grunt’s death was even worse. I chose him to lead the second fire team! God knows why, I think it was because they were meant to defend, and I figured he’d be a great warrior with all his rallying cries and valiant morale-boosting loud noises. Except, he’s a total bloody moron who thinks of nothing but killing.

      My final death I didnt even see coming. Mordin died “holding the line”, echoing Kirrahe’s speech from the previous game. I thought it a valiant but so unnecessary death – it was only after when I read up on the mechanics behind that final stand, that I realised he was just too squishy to be there.

      Still, thank God I didnt lose Garrus. I’d have probably jumped out of a window or something.

      Also, westyfield: Thank you very much mate. That honestly means a lot, since the only people to have read my stuff and comment on it so far are friends and clanmembers.

    • karthik says:

      @FrenZorz: “I simply could not bear to play a Mass Effect 3 without my favourite characters. I mean, no Mordin? Really? Nor Legion? I’d never find out his purpose, or why he wears that armour.”

      Ditto. I’m all for a gut-wrenching finale for the ME series, but losing people (mostly due to my incompetence) at this stage made me unbearably sad for the experiences I’d be missing out on.

      @Gunhover:I” know Garrus isn’t everyone’s favourite but I really liked his character, and I felt like he had been by my side fighting the good fight since the day I first stepped onto the Citadel back in 2007. I’d spent more time talking to him than I have most people I work with, so I wasn’t going to let him be erased from my Mass Effect storyline simply because I judged the ME2 ending system poorly. He deserves better than that.”

      Ditto. I sent Garrus through the tunnels (didn’t want to risk Tali, and wanted legion by my side) and felt the numbness of losing an old friend. Couldn’t let it end that way!

    • Gunhover says:

      @ Frenz0rz: It’s been a long day here and I didn’t even notice the article link the first time I read your post… it’s good stuff mate, nice job. :-)

      I can relate to your feelings after finishing it – I know it sounds bad but man, I actually felt empty after completing it and exiting the game for the last time. It had literally dominated my spare time to the extent where I was getting home from work, neglecting necessary nutrition and basic hygiene, ignoring phone calls and playing through to the early hours of the morning before snatching a quick couple of hours kip, then heading right back to work. It was messy.

      When I was actually at work, all I could think of was getting back home and taking the Normandy through another unexplored mass relay. I was itching to get back to the action, back to waywardly exploring the digital Milky Way, back to interacting with my crew and gaining their loyalty variables, back to discovering more about the Collectors and TIM and Cerberus and the Reapers and and and…

      But then suddenly, late on a Friday night bathing in only the glow of my monitor and surrounded by the overpriced speakers I foolishly bought after a few too many pints, it was complete… I’d explored a large majority of the Mass Effect 2 universe, pillaged hundreds of planets of their valuable resources, lost friends, blown up gigantic space stations, seduced some pixelated aliens and saved the galaxy in a suitably epic fashion, and that was that.

      I didn’t know what the hell to do with myself that weekend. I was at home awkwardly skimming through the TV channels for hours, even though subconsciously I knew nothing I found would even come close to immersing me in the same way that Bioware just had. I tried throwing on a couple of movies but stopped them both before I even got half way, they just bored me more. In the end I started messaging and mailing random friends and blabbering on for hours about it – either just for an excuse to keep it in my mind, or because I couldn’t get it out. I don’t know which. Most of them hastily made their excuses mid way through my spamming as they realised I wasn’t going to shut up, and promptly logged off.

      Sure enough, by Monday morning I was dumped back into the deep end of reality and quickly found other things to distract, amuse and captivate my entertainment thirsty brain, but there was a solid 2 day period after finishing ME2 that I was a broken, broken man. It felt like 2 fucking weeks.

      Oh, and er hi, my name is Gunhover and I’m an addict. I’ve been clean about 3 months now…. Say, when’s Mass Effect 3 due for release?

    • westyfield says:

      @ Frenz0rz
      @ Gunhover

      I felt the same after finishing ME2 – I bought Mass Effect just before ME2 came out and preordered ME2 at the same time, so I played through both of them in about a month. After I finished I sat back, sighed, and wondered what to do next.
      I spent a while chatting to friends about how awesome Mass Effect is, and convinced one of them to buy it (have since convinced another). I tried playing Half Life 2 again, then got bored quickly and within a few days I’d started Mass Effect all over again.
      I’m now nearing the end of my third ME1 playthrough, about to buy the ME2 DLC and play through that again.

      Help me.

    • somnolentsurfer says:

      Why does everyone think that killing Samara is the “evil” option? This is a woman who wants to euthanise her own daughter because she’s disabled!

    • jalf says:

      @somnolentsurfer: You know, I thought it was because her daughter had spent the last 400 years killing dozens and dozens of people?

      That’s kinda why Samara isn’t killing her other daughters. They suffer the same condition but refrain from frying people’s brains. So Samara doesn’t kill them.

      Call me silly, but I think that kinda puts Samara on the “good” side.

    • Klaus says:

      Why does everyone think that killing Samara is the “evil” option? This is a woman who wants to euthanise her own daughter because she’s disabled!
      I found Morinth repugnant. It’s not like she was giving brain hemorrhages to thugs and pirates. While you’re looking for her you find out that she used, manipulated, and murdered a young human girl (a teen I think) named Nef. Listening to Nef’s diary tapes was actually bothersome for me. Asari are supposedly attractive to everyone, there is no reason (other than perversion imo)she couldn’t pick up some horny degenerate instead of some naive, impressionable girl.
      She’s pretty much just a predator and if she ever did think of herself as a victim I doubt she does anymore. She’ll even manipulate and kill Shepard (the person who spared her life) if you give her the chance.
      And while I found some of Samara’s ideas objectionable there is no way Morinth is the lesser evil.

    • somnolentsurfer says:

      Samara has a frankly barbaric moral code that allows her to execute on site, without trial, anyone who does something she disagrees with. How is that less repugnant? On a purely objective level, on a ship half crewed with former (and not so former) convicts, it would clearly make her a liability to my team…

      Morinth has a staggeringly horrible physical disability, compounded by a mental illness that basically comes down to wanting to be able to live a normal life, and a mother who’s sworn to dedicate her life to killing her because of who she is.

    • Klaus says:

      wanting to be able to live a normal life, and a mother who’s sworn to dedicate her life to killing her because of who she is.

      Unfortunately she can’t have a normal life and she doesn’t appear to want one or at least what someone in her predicament could get. She wasn’t living as some sort of abstinent fugitive. She was running from place to place, likely murdering people she found ‘neat.’

      She does not kill because she has to, or in self defense, she kills because it is gratifying to her and she appears to show no remorse for any of her victims. She is essentially what I would imagine a serial killer to be.

      Actually I’m pretty biased anyway. Meeting Morinth, I classified her a ‘hipster’ and her desire to kill creative people just pisses me off. She contributes nothing to the universe and kills anyone that could potentially better it. Cause again, she’s not killing off the dregs.

    • jsdn says:

      Asari have very strong sexual desires when they’re young, relatively speaking. They also have a lifespan of a thousand or so years. Morinth is doing what any Asari would normally do, find a mate and watch their mate die. It just so happens Morinth has a condition that speeds up the latter process. Can you imagine if an Asari mourned the loss of each of their lovers as much as the average Human? They’d be an absolute wreck well before they’d even hit middle-age.
      Morinth’s personality is no different from any other Asari. She kills but she’s not a killer, as it were.

    • somnolentsurfer says:

      Well, she is a killer… There’s not really much getting away from the fact that she knows the act of love will kill her mates. That’s not the norm for asari. But she continues to hope that this time it will be different, that she will have found the person who has the mental strength to match her. And sure, some people choose abstinence, but she’s had it forced upon her by a society that hates her kind. Even for those that choose abstinence themselves, it’s not in any sense a normal life.

    • Klaus says:

      I honestly don’t know how anyone can rationalize Morinth’s behavior. She actively searches out, stalks, immobilizes and then kills her prey. It’s right there.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QS5UVQlitAw

      “So strong. I need this.” She is talking about the high she thinks she’s about to get after successfully seducing another sap. She isn’t looking for a mate, or a fling, she is looking for a victim. If she killed Shepard she would have moved on pretty damn quickly to her next victim. As far as I remember, Liara says that the rumor that asari are promiscuous stems from their ability to mate with any race.

      but she’s had it forced upon her by a society that hates her kind.

      Why would they do this? It’s obvious by Morinth’s responsible behavior that Ardat-Yakshi’s should be allowed to roam the universe unchecked. Clearly there is no upside to protecting the rest of the universe from a being who kills with such simplicity, grows stronger from it and addicted to it.

      This is what annoyed me in BG2. The elves chose to punish Irenicus and Bodhi in an inhuman (relating to elves) manner and then exiled them into the rest of the world with the ‘lesser’ races. The asari got it right, keeping other species (some that die at 40 years to an asari’s 1000) safe from their own immensely dangerous people.

      tl;dr – Morinth is a serial killer because she has killed many people and gets off on it. And provides justifications for her being locked up.

  20. Bureaucrat says:

    I agree with Kieron on the ease with which any player who understands RPG tropes can escape the supposed suicide mission in one piece. As the “middle chapter” in the overall ME story, this was a prime opportunity to introduce some heroic sacrifice into the story. Death isn’t even necessary– just put the player in a situation where simply getting away with his life is an achievement, even if it leaves Garrus frozen in carbonite and Miranda sold off as a toy for an ill-mannered Volus warlord.

    This feels weird to say, but Bioware’s biggest flaw as a studio is that they listen to their audience and give them what they want. That’s how we end up with multiple lizards to have hilariously awkward relations with, and it’s how we end up with a trilogy whose basic plotline goes: “Shepard kicks ass, Shepard kicks ass, and then Shepard kicks ass again.” The writing would be much more interesting if the authors were willing to risk angering some people by handing out some tough love from time to time.

    • westyfield says:

      I agree with some of what you said, but ME3 is gonna have to be fairly long if BW are to “hand out some tough love” and still deliver the happy ending that I demand. Although an ME2 style ending would be acceptable, where it can be ‘yay! everyone lives!’, ‘damn! everyone died.’ or somewhere in between.

    • perilisk says:

      As someone who “understands RPG tropes”, I put off going on the suicide mission after my crew was taken to wrap up the other missions because, hey, it’s not like it actually matters how long I take, right? So, that kind of cuts both ways.

  21. Serph says:

    The first time I completed the game, I lost Tali and Zaeed to enemy fire, but I didn’t really feel like “oh, they died heroically and it makes sense in terms of the story”, it just felt like “whoops, I screwed up and killed them by not being a good enough commander”. Then, I went back and did the right thing, e.g. trusted Garrus for everything because he kicks ass. But, if a certain character dies no matter what you do, and everyone is inextricably impacted by the death, it has more impact than if you know that you as a player screwed up and that you can play through again and fix it. How would you feel if you could save Anna Karenina by re-reading the book or stop Aeris from getting stabbed?

    Personally, I thought the suicide mission was totally underwhelming. It wasn’t an insane giant space battle against overwhelming odds, just a regular mission in which your crew members were incredibly fragile and could die from a stray bullet and/or explosion. And then fought the Terminator.

  22. laikapants says:

    I did the Reaper IFF mission too early (still had to recruit Thane, Samara and Legion and do several loyalty missions). When I got to the Collector’s base I was just in time to see my special lady friend, Kelly Chambers, turned into goo. Dr. Chakwas was the only crew member I managed to save, with the entire squad surviving. Normandy is a cold cold ship without her crew. Even so, I can’t bring myself to replay that Shepherd’s save as it’d almost feel cheap. Maybe the next Shepherd will save everyone, hopefully.

    • FunkyBadger says:

      Exactly the point! I’ll play ME3 with my original, flawed ending – anything less would make Garrus’ and, err, the psycho assari, sacrifice less meanigful.

      There’s a great chapter in Excession pondering that idea (the one just before the Killing Time goes on its own suicide mission).

  23. rocketman71 says:

    Shouldn’t that be the-CliffyB-previously-known-as-an-artist?

    I could even add some more words in there. Douche is one.

  24. kyrieee says:

    Great article, you articulated exactly how I feel about the game!

    When I played it I did my best to save everyone but I didn’t feel like I went out of my way, I simply felt I did the obvious thing and that was still enough to save all the party members. I still felt very satisfied after completing the game though because I didn’t know they were going to make it.

    Seeing Garrus get shot and looking like he was going to fall over but then shrugging it off created a stronger response from me than the live / die decision in ME1. They’ve come far

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      “Seeing Garrus get shot and looking like he was going to fall over but then shrugging it off ”

      Absolutely what I meant by the heart-in-mouth stuff. GET UP SAMARA! GET UP!

      KG

    • bleeters says:

      You mean “Get up Morinth“.

      ….What?

  25. Apricot says:

    I lost some of my characters (not many) and it made me sad for the very reason that I could have saved them if I’d done a bit better, it was my fault, not just something unavoidable, I had killed them not the game. The same thing worked in a similar but different way in Oblivion’s Dark Brotherhood Quest where it was me that killed them therefore I was sad.

  26. Wednesday says:

    I utterly agree. I too really wanted some tragic moments to shade my victory. It’s just far to easy to save almost everyone.

    I think ME 2 does deserve classic status, if only because its so unlike anything else. I think its a game we’ll keep coming back to and say “look at that, look how clever it is, how unique this experience was.”

    A way to imrove the method you go about the ending, and one they come so close to is this: what comes first, loyalty to your crew, those you love, or to the mission, to the galaxy as a whole. What if saving Tali weakened the Migrant fleet, what if saving Thane’s son would cost you the future, vital, support of the council against the reapers?

  27. Jeremy says:

    I have to agree with the overall sense that this will absolutely be Game of the Year for me, no doubt, but it definitely lacks that “Best Ever” quality that pushes games into Classic status. In the end it’s the lack of urgency, and the realization that, as you said… this isn’t really a suicide mission. Now, a man can say that a you just need to play it like it’s urgent, not spend all that time on side missions, upgrading the ship, etc. The problem is that the game specifically directs and informs you how each of these things could potentially impact the end game, implied or not. I guarantee that in reality, a ship’s captain won’t think, “If I don’t get shields, someone could die by a laser… I think we can get by without it.” The option is there, the information is provided, you will upgrade the effin shield. Also, let’s say you want to see “other” endings, aka, the Suicide aspect of the Suicide Mission. The instant you say in your mind, “I want to see all the endings”, all credibility of emotion is gone. I can’t feel bad for someone dying when I specifically don’t upgrade my ship, or gain loyalty, just so that person dies. It doesn’t resonate because I’m specifically making that decision so the person dies, so I can see a slightly different ending. I sort of wish that Bioware would have just risked the Nerd Rage/Perfection Rage of it’s players by saying, “eff it, you can’t save everyone, no matter what”. Does it take some of the power out of your hands? Absolutely. Would it change the emotional impact? I don’t think so. Everyone wants control, everyone needs it, which is why sometimes it’s important to realize that no matter what you do, no matter how good you are, and no matter how much you care for someone, they can die. How about some trade-offs? They tried it with Miranda/Jack and Tali/Geth, but in the end, you are once again informed on how to get by and choose the Best Choice (aka blue) and have it all work out and make people see “reason”. Like Jack would ever see reason concerning Miranda.

    I don’t want to sound like I hate the game, because it’s amazing and I really loved it. There are so many things they did right in the game, but they couldn’t sell the main premise of the game to me (suicide mission) because they gave me all the tools I needed to make certain that nobody died.

    • FunkyBadger says:

      That’s why the kaiden/Ashley choice in ME1 was so good. There was no cheating the – excuse the geekery – Kobiyashi Maru…

    • teo says:

      In case the reply fails:

      @Jeremy

      “They tried it with Miranda/Jack and Tali/Geth, but in the end, you are once again informed on how to get by and choose the Best Choice (aka blue) and have it all work out and make people see “reason”. Like Jack would ever see reason concerning Miranda.”

      You need to have a very high paragon / renegade rating to get those options. I couldn’t pick either for Tali / Legion and thus had no way of not losing their loyalty which was good in a way because it made me even more nervous during the final mission.

      I tried to roleplay instead of going max renegade regardless of the choice so I didn’t have enough points.

    • Jeremy says:

      The only problem with that one is that I really didn’t like either character a ton :) I think the fear is that, if you kill off a great character, you miss out on writing more about that character, or you piss off certain people that may have reached fanboy status in regards to that particular character. Can you imagine if they killed off Thane? There would be an outcry! Still, it might have been epic to have him use the last of his remaining time alive to sacrifice for the universe. Then again, you can’t really know which characters are going to be loved and/or hated. Kaiden though… I’ve never met a more unlikeable character in any game in my life, for me it was an easy choice and in fact made me respect him a little more :)

    • bleeters says:

      @teo

      Same position I was in, I picked responses I felt were appropriate rather than those which were strictly renegade or paragon, and thus ended up with too little of either later on. Poor exiled Tali :(

      Tinkering with the amount of morality points transfered from a ME1 import helped *cough*

    • Jeremy says:

      I actually role-played it myself, and felt like I picked a fair amount of Renegade v. Paragon. Not a fan of gaming the system at all, but it still all felt so obvious to me. Pick this person for that mission, upgrade this aspect of the ship… not even necessarily stuff that involved conversations. I chose the things that I would say in any given moment, but that isn’t too much the issue, it is the fact that with a few words you can make a person like Jack go completely against her character and suddenly be okay with everything. It made more sense for Tali / Geth to be okay, because that was more of a racial issue (if you can call robots a race… maybe I am racist?) rather than a personal one. I understand it’s a game, but I think until game designers are willing to take a few risks and say “screw your sense of choice, you can’t control everything”, that we’ll still have situations like this.

    • Klaus says:

      That’s why the kaiden/Ashley choice in ME1 was so good.
      I disliked both of them, so I just flipped a coin and got it over with.

      No one died on me in ME2, but I peeked at the wiki so… Still most of the choices were pretty obvious in who should be doing what during the suicide mission. Had I not looked at a guide my only casualty would have been Kelly. Even if the game promotes an sense of urgency, there is no reason to rush off to unexplored space with basic crap.

      However, I needed no excuse as I just took my sweet time romancing Jack, having Miranda proposition me and trying to find something interesting about Jacob. (There isn’t)

    • Klaus says:

      Actually what I wanted was for npc’s to acknowledge my damn class. Ken, Gabby and Tali are are all engineers and yet you can’t talk to them about any engineering crap. Same with Jack if you’re a biotic. I’m not looking for deep discussions here, but something would have been nice. Like, in Mass Effect, Kaidan takes note that you’re a biotic when you’re talking about his stupid life.

      Hmm… seeing as I only completed the game twice I shouldn’t sound so sure, but afaik, I am correct.

  28. IvanHoeHo says:

    One of the things that irked me was how arbitrary the deaths were. Most times the scenes would be identical except that your crew fails to stand back up by the end of it. I guess you could use the bullshit blanket claim that they weren’t paying “proper attention”, but it’s probably because then they’d have to voice everything and they didn’t have the time/patience for it.

    Except that the climax/ending is the MOST important part of a story-centric game like this, of course.

  29. teo says:

    Great piece! This is why I read RPS

    I hope you explore the “RPG?” discussion further in your follow up though because while it doesn’t adhere to the gameplay conventions of RPGs stemming from D&D it still a game very much about roleplaying. More than any other game I’ve played Mass Effect 2 made me want to act the way I think my Sheppard would.

    Your character has character, better yet, you get to influence it! Seeing and hearing Sheppard speak the lines you pick manifests her/him in the world instead of the protagonist simply being an extention of the player. I can’t think of another game with a main character this strong that also gives so much control over their personality. For me that’s the chief accomplishment of ME2.

    • westyfield says:

      I totally agree.
      The reason why Mass Effect 1 and 2 are my favourite games ever is that it’s my Shepard.
      The one with the chin-length brown hair and the almost-purple eyes. The one who screwed up on a moon called Torfan and got most of her unit killed because she wanted to get the job done. The one who regrets that more than anything and is constantly trying to atone for her mistakes, who always seeks to do the right thing, making decisions from the heart, not from the head.
      She’s not Gordon-mute-Freeman, she’s not Soap-shootybang-McTavish, she’s not JC-whatashame-Denton –
      She is Commander Julia Shepard, and she is why I love Mass Effect.

    • Zwebbie says:

      It’s one of those FPS/RPG things, though, and you have to be prepared for it. I imagined ME(1) to be a Role Playing Game, and set out with a mentality for such games. Namely, I thought the concepts of the alien races were ridiculously stupid, so it came naturally to be racist. The game doesn’t allow that though. When Ashley speaks out about not trusting them, you can only disagree with her. Furthermore, I didn’t want any of those filthy aliens – aliens in gas masks, no less! – to be in my party, but every single one but Wrex was forced onto me. I also didn’t want to rescue Liara, and called her a dumbass at every possible point, but she fell in love with Shepard nonetheless – very reactive, Mass Effect. Compared to a real RPG, like, say, Arcanum, where I can stab anyone I want (and still finish the game, I believe!) and where I can play a character who steals parts to make guns that he can barely lift and then has a character trait to make him extremely clumsy in combat, ME is definitely shallow and every Shepard is goaded into day-saving crew-loving fighting badass… and I suppose that’s the mentality with which you have to enter the game, or you’ll be as disappointed as I am. There’s a joke that the BioWare dialogue always amounts to variations of ‘yes’, like “Yes, please!/Yes/I don’t have a choice”, and it’s only all too true.

    • jalf says:

      Compared to a real RPG, like, say, Arcanum, where I can stab anyone I want (and still finish the game, I believe!) and where I can play a character who steals parts to make guns that he can barely lift and then has a character trait to make him extremely clumsy in combat

      Oh, so “roleplaying” is about faffing around with details that have absolutely no bearing on the story then?

      I disagree. I think ME (1 and 2) are by far superior RPGs because they allow you to play a meaningful role in a story.

      Being a character who stole parts to make guns in Arcanum **didn’t matter**. It made zero difference to the game. No NPC would treat you as a gun-building thief.

      I think that’s where ME is refreshing. True, it doesn’t allow you to fuck around sandbox-style, but the choices it does give you actually have meaning. It’s not just “do I want to try to break the game by randomly killing NPCs, or do I want to use guns or magic”.

      ME faces up to the fact that yes, you’re going to be the hero who saves the galaxy. No choice about that because otherwise your character wouldn’t be worth making a game about. But you get to choose what kind of galaxy-saving hero you are, and you get to choose an awful lot about *how* you save the galaxy.

      For all its mucking around with crafting and skill trees and allowing you to kill NPC’s, can you think of any point in Arcanum where that actually made a *difference* to the role you played?

      I can’t. ME might give you fewer choices, but unlike Arcanum (or virtually any “traditional” RPG), it *respects* those choices. I can’t think of a single game that has done that before.

      Other RPGs just allow you to break the game. They allow you to be a sociopathic kleptomaniac serial killer… who for some reason decides to save the world even though it’s not at all in your character. They allow you to play characters who are deeply incompetent in any kind of combat situation…. but who somehow still manage to beat the big world-eating end-boss in a fight.

      I don’t see how that’s roleplaying. On the contrary, it seems to be breaking out of the role, incidentally wrecking the story you’re supposedly part of.

      Compared to that, I prefer ME’s way to handle the roleplaying.

  30. Lilliput King says:

    Didn’t even know people could die ’till reading RPS forum posts about it after completion.

    Just that good, I’m afraid.

  31. jalf says:

    As KG said, the suicide mission kind of failed at the “suicide part”. It was fun, tense, hectic and at times tough, but it wasn’t really a suicide mission.

    I think the actual ground mission worked well enough, and the whole “splitting up the team” thing was great, and really had me agonizing over who to put in charge of what, but I’d hoped to see a bit more player involvement in the actual escape. It’s always a given that the Normandy is able to take off in time, despite the pretty brutal landing. What if you had the option of leaving a few squad members behind to help fix the Normandy while you go in to blow shit up? What if, depending on your ship upgrades (reducing the damage taken) and repair team’s ability, you might end up successfully blowing up the base, but unable to get the Normandy ready for flight in time to escape?

    You never really felt stretched. Assuming you’d recruited everyone, you always had crew members to spare. What if you had to not just choose who to send on side missions, but also which side missions to do at all, because your team isn’t big enough to cover them all?

    I really missed the “mission accomplished — but you didn’t make it back to tell anyone” outcome. True, Shepard can die, but Joker and the Normandy *always* make it back. Why? Where’s the suicide in that? Going into the game, that seemed like the most obvious outcome. I’m a hero, so of course I’m going to succeed at my mission. But will *any* of us make it back?

    I also wouldn’t have minded a more elaborate build-up to the final mission. The recruitment/loyalty missions were fun, sure, but they were so entirely independent of the actual core storyline, it felt almost “outside the game”. The galaxy is in imminent danger, but let’s go save Miranda’s sister. The recruitment/loyalty missions just sort of drowned out the core plot by sheer volume. There were so many of them, and *one* little blip on your map showing the actual main plot mission.

    I think that’d have been ok if the actual core plot had consisted of a few more missions building up to the finale. And it’d have felt more like one main story with a bunch of interludes focusing on your squad, rather than 12 mini-stories, one of which just so happened to be about saving the universe.

    Of course, writing all this, it suddenly sounds very negative. I loved the game. I loved the story, and I’m surprised at how well the mission structure worked.

    Apart from that, I absolutely love how many *major* story hooks they had that are obviously going to influence ME3: Pushing the Migrant fleet towards ending the war with the Geth, or even establishing contact with the Geth themselves and potentially securing their aid against the Reapers. And of course, whether or not to save the Collector base.

    You were really given a lot of options for securing support from different groups and factions against the Reapers. Gonna be interesting to see how it plays out in ME3.

  32. bleeters says:

    I love Mass Effect 2. I may never tire of it. And whilst I do think it manages the threat of losing a crewmember (and the consequence if you do) better than Mass Effect 1(where you were essentially placed in a massively illogical situation given that you command a frigate full of alliance marines and several other characters presumably sat around playing cards), flawlessly executing the suicide mission without loss is both a) a bit unsatisfying, and b) not remotely difficult to pull off. Hell, a fully upgraded ship will essentially blow through every obstacle in its path, which also made me wonder precisely why I didn’t obliterate the collector ship earlier and save everyone a lot of hassle.

    My problem is thus: each of your teams survival depends on their loyalty, as mentioned. Two problems with this spring to mind. First, in virtually all cases, earning that loyalty is just a matter of doing the respective missions. As such, whether or not they survive is essentially a question of ‘have you skipped about a third of the game content or not?’ rather than, say, weighing the benefits of entering the relay at a certain time against the risks. Secondly, said loyalty not only causes them to perform their given tasks more effectively, which makes sense, but also gives them the power to shrug off bullets, flying debris and all manner of damage that would otherwise kill them. This part is what irks me especially.

    Perhaps when you’re in such a situation, such as the very end section after you’ve set the base to overload/not-overload-you-manipulated-fool and the platform your team is on collides with another, make whether your team survives that crash more random. Have a chance that they’ll die anyway, regardless of loyalty, and attatch that to similiar situations where their fate really isn’t their own making.

    And perhaps make the final-boss-you-know-what-I-mean more complete depending on how long it took you to enter the relay in the first place. Let’s say you take the time to gain loyalty for your entire team beforehand. Your ship is fully upgraded. By the time you arrive, the collectors have had more time to pepare. To build. They’ve had time to process more humans, and as such the reaper is far more complete. The weak spots are covered, more weapons are online. Rudimentary shields are inplace. Essentially, make that final mission more difficult to accomplish based on how long it took you to get there. An upgraded ship and loyal team are still a vital necessity if you want to survive, sure, but this way it still retains an edge of danger. Probably?

  33. Marshall says:

    I fucked up. I lost Thane, Legion and Miranda. It was quite a blow, really, and I thought it was totally brilliant. I didn’t realize that you could NOT lose characters – I assumed that if you sent so-and-so on this mission, than such-and-such would die.

    In any case, I’m glad it happened that way. It really rocked me to the core when they were gone, an experience I hadn’t had in any medium since… well, since the last confrontation between Rorschach and Dr. Manhattan.

    Just have to wonder how they’ll handle the “who lived and who died” question in ME3, particularly if we happened to wipe our local files…

    • Hidden_7 says:

      Judging by how the did the no-save Shepard from ME2, everyone will be dead except Shepard and Joker.

  34. the wiseass says:

    Making choices never really worked the way it was intended for me, playing Mass Effect 1. Maybe it’s just me, but I hardly ever loose the illusion that it’s only a game I’m playing. While Mass Effects 1 was a pretty good game, It didn’t appeal to me emotionally, contrary to games like Braid or System Shock.

    I always felt Mass Effect was a pretty shallow experience, even when I landed on that one planet where the colonists were trying to fend off that invasion while being mind controlled by that huge plant-thingie. Because of that I always knew that I simply could load an earlier savegame and try out another choice, no matter what happens.

    The worst thing was when Ashley (if I remember correctly) decided to shoot Wrex out of the blue, simply because he freaked a little about his fellow men being abused as war-slaves on that one planet with the nice beach. Shepard was like “please don’t do that again” and shrugged it off, going into what I like to call “ignore, continue anyway” mode.

    Wrex was one of my favourite characters, because he felt, contrary to Ashley or Kaidan, like a real character. So yeah, that’s when I reloaded and pumped a few points into my rhetoric skills, in order to save him.

    The second time was when I had to chose between sacrificing Kaidan or Ashley. Now, based on previous events, my choice was pretty clear who to let go, even if it meant to give up my best combatant. Nevertheless I reloaded the game 3 more time just to find out if it was even possible to save both!

    Now one could argue that this could be a sign of me really caring for my fellow crew members, but I’m personally not so sure on that. It always nags me if I’m completing a game in a sub-optimal away especially if there are different endings, based on what choices you’ve made. As I decided to play a good character, I felt forced to replay these segments even if I did not enjoy what I was doing. “This is wrong”, I kept telling myself, “you should accept your blow of fate instead of reloading your savegame”, I said. Nevertheless I did it, because “it’s simply a game”, one that didn’t affect me emotionally as much as I wanted it to. This was worsened by the fact that, sometimes the game would give me paragon/renegade points based on decisions I simply could not comprehend.

    So yeah, my experience with Mass Effect 1 has been a double edged sword, which is keeping me from playing the sequel. Simply because I do not intend to relive that again, which is a shame.

    • bleeters says:

      “simply because he freaked a little about his fellow men being abused as war-slaves on that one planet with the nice beach.”

      Just to note, he’s more pissed because you’re planning to nuke the base that holds a cure for his species that would save them from their current pattern of dwindling, inevitable extinction. Ashley guns him down to prevent him shooting you if you’ve failed to talk him out of it.

      As far as re-loading constantly to ‘fix’ decisions you’re uncomfortable with. Uh, well. That’s sort of an inevitable weakness that comes with being a game, and not something they can’t really work around.

    • the wiseass says:

      @bleeters:

      No matter the exact reasons, given the circumstances I think it was pretty understandable why Wrex was freaking out. Concerning Ashley, I felt that this was a thing between me and Wrex, we both pointed guns at each other, we were equal concerning that matter. Ashley should not have intervened by shooting him in the back, that’s just lame. Especially Sheperd’s reaction afterwards was completely ridiculous. I’d rather have made a decision at that particular point, by being able to forgive Ashley or forever dismiss her from my group.

      And the reloading thing has been the worst in Mass Effect, I don’t know why. Other games made me stick with my decision much better than Mass Effect. I don’t say that I blame it all on the game, but there is something about Mass Effect that makes decision-making particular awkward.

      The major flaw with these decision games is that the outcome mostly depends on a few major decisions instead of a sum of many little ones. You could be a major dick on all those small decisions, as long as you decide in a good way on the major ones, it won’t really affect the game. The paragon/renegade thing didn’t help here, as it was badly implemented and followed it’s very own set of moral rules that were partly inaccessible to the player.

    • Klaus says:

      Concerning Ashley, I felt that this was a thing between me and Wrex
      You’re on a mission, and this ‘thing between [you] and Wrex’ is endangering it and everyone else. I probably would have shot Wrex too, with the mindset; “What the fuck is Wrex doing now?!? Oh shit, what do we do if Shepard dies? Don’t we need that prothean shit he knows…? BLAM!
      Kicking out Ash means; You have lost two of your better warriors in less than 10 minutes. And how is it going to look when it’s revealed that Ashley was dismissed because she shot someone who aimed a gun at her commander. It’s not like she shot a jumpy civilian.

    • teo says:

      You’re writing about Mass Effect 1 not having played Mass Effect 2. I didn’t play ME1 until after ME2 came out and I also felt like writing about ME1 when I saw people getting so giddy about ME2, but I’m glad I didn’t. The jump from ME1 to ME2 is just massive and I don’t mean to shit on your opinions but I feel you can’t properly discuss the series without having played both.

      I didn’t like ME1 for the first 12 hours or something but I love love love ME2, it’s second only to Deus Ex for me in terms of how much I enjoyed it. There’s not guarantee you’ll like it but even if you do I suspect you’ll feel that all those opinions you had on ME1 kinda don’t matter, that’s how I felt. Play it.

    • teo says:

      Spelling!
      “There’s no guarantee you’ll like it but even if you DON’T”

  35. Joe says:

    Surprised you liked the final mission. I didn’t. Because after spending so much time earning your crew’s loyalty, the last mission is merely a test of their competence. And it doesn’t follow up on any of the big decisions you’ve made during the game (do you keep the Krogan cure, do you let Legion have the Quarian battle plans, etc). I wanted twists, mind control, crewmates pulling guns on each other, tears before bedtime… y’know, drama! Instead, we get a shooting gallery, and the hardest choice you have to make is “I wonder who’s the best biotic?” Meh.

    • Jeremy says:

      I’m pretty sure those big reveals are being set up for the 3rd installment. Granted, it would be nice to have a few loose ends tied up in the sequel. It’s the curse of the trilogy though, the sequel is actually just there to set up the final act (in terms of storyline), even if it’s a great game in it’s own right, and much better than the first even.

  36. benjamin says:

    Why has no one mentioned how incredibly crap the whole “Human reaper” was? It actually made me laugh it was so contrived.

    My major gripes with ME2 were that its end mission was too short, there wasn’t enough plot (we barely learnt anything new) and there was no villian I could identify with. In a way I prefer ME1.

    • bleeters says:

      @Benjamin

      My initial response was several minutes of laughter, followed by picturing how it would’ve looked once completed. A giant robotic human, flying towards the citadel whilst striking a super/Ironman pose, obliterating the fleet with a laser fired out of its mouth.

      Then I laughed for a few more minutes, before shooting it down. Which felt a little superfluous given that I was about to destroy the entire station, but anyway.

    • perilisk says:

      For a game that put a lot of effort into coming up with hard-sounding science for its technology, the fact that it went and pulled a “they’re building a reaper from the genetic essence of humans” sounded like a plotline accidentally fell into Mass Effect from The Elder Scrolls or something. Yes, the mysterious fate of the Protheans was to have their essences combined in a giant stompy robot, presumably later used to build an Empire.

    • westyfield says:

      Everyone automatically accepts that the final battle was terrible. It was like Poison Ivy but worse, ’cause Poison Ivy was already known to be a threat, and she was kinda dumb so it made sense for her to expose her weak spot three times. The human/reaper was a giant AI the size of a spaceship – surely it was capable of thinking ‘ow, that hurt, better not do that again’?

    • sebmojo says:

      The UberTerminator was a bit wacky, but I took it as an implicit compliment. It’s not just any human up there – it’s the human that’s been foiling their schemes and getting in their way, it’s the human that stands between an invincible immortal army of space robots and a galaxy cleansed of the filthy taint of life.

      It’s you.

      It’s GIANT EVIL MECHASHEPARD.

  37. Octaeder says:

    I saved everyone by sending Jacob to escort the crew instead of Zaeed, whose loyalty I also hadn’t secured.

    I think part of the problem is that how to survive the final mission is almost too obvious – Garrus to lead the second team, Tali or Legion for the tech stuff, Jack or Samara for the biotic section. The only variable is whether or not you secured their loyalty.

    The problem being that securing their loyalty was too easy. I could have done with more missions like Zaeed’s where the mitigating factor wasn’t whether or not I could do the mission; it was whether or not I could bring myslef to do the mission. His was the only one with a choice that my Shepherd couldn’t go along with.

    • bleeters says:

      @Octaeder

      I spent more time torn between whether I wanted 10% more assault rifle damage (if you leave them to burn) or 15% more heavy weapon ammunition (if you save them) than on the actual morality of the situation. I’m a bad person :(

  38. kelvingreen says:

    I’m not sure how they could have handled the time element without severely restricting your freedom.

    Schmung, do you remember an Amiga/ST game called Damocles? There was a free-roaming sandbox type game which also had a strict time limit. The game wouldn’t end if you failed to complete your mission in time, but you would “lose”, and some of the sandbox would be destroyed as a result. It worked really well, and Damocles remains one of my favourite games to this day; if they could make a time limit work in a freeform setting back in 1990, there’s no reason why a modern game couldn’t manage it.

  39. karthik says:

    Brilliant write-up!

    This article resonates with me almost as much as the game did. But let’s get this out of the way:

    Alt-text on the first pic: Thane is NOT an Amphibian. His lung disease was caused by exposure to moisture, remember?

    I particularly liked the game’s portrayal of your crew as (former) badasses- and yup, felt bad about Jacob being just a soldier, despite whatever backstory he spewed about serving on an Alliance Corsair.

    I lost a couple of characters in the final run too, Garrus and Mordin- then realized it was entirely due to my incompetence, and was in a daze for a couple of days before going back and fixing it.
    Which, I suppose, is why it meant so much to see the entire crew in the final cut scenes. The game seems to have had a similar effect on most people, judging from the comments above.

    ME2 now has a special place in my memory- it’s not a game I’m going to forget about anytime soon.

  40. Nalano says:

    If they didn’t switch up the characters, Westyfield, it would have been very difficult for you to make meaningful decisions (They’d all have to live, or one or two would have to canon die, robbing you of that choice). I fully expect Liara/Wrex/Kaidan et al to be full characters with a fair bit of plot development central to them in the third and final chapter.

  41. skalpadda says:

    I first thought that was dr Chakwas in bed with Thane and thought “Is that green bastard cheating on me!?”. Also, surely he’s a fish, not a lizard. Got gills and all.

    • bleeters says:

      He’s dying from medical complications due to living on a humid, moist planet with the Hannar rather than their original arid homeworld That seems like a disadvantage for a fish.

      :(

    • Klaus says:

      I thought it was Chakwas as well. Heh.

      Agree with the fish thing too, I call him fish-assassin when speaking to people not familiar with the game. I used to call him lizardguy though. Oh what I am going on about.

    • FunkyBadger says:

      Really liked Thane’s implications that the Hanaar were a bit, well, nastier than floaty jellyfishes really have any right to be.

  42. Rath says:

    From Custom PC magazines’ review of Mass Effect 2: ( http://www.bit-tech.net/gaming/pc/2010/01/26/mass-effect-2-review/2 )

    “On the whole though the writing and new look at how Mass Effect’s fiction fits together works remarkably well and there are a fair few characters who stand out as particularly inspired. Our personal favourite is one of the first team mates to be introduced and one that Mass Effect fans will already know from the iPhone spin-off game, Jacob. A biotic soldier who was formerly in the employ of the Alliance, Jacob acts as a clever mirror to a Paragon Shepherd might be – deeply conflicted about his place in CEREBUS, but sure it’s the best way to get results.”

    Personally, I didn’t feel any more familiarity with Jacob after playing through that godawful iPhone game, but I can’t say I disliked the guy or felt he was boring at all. Sure, his backstory may not have been as well written as that of say, Mordin, but his backstory still worked fine for me. He was a soldier, he foiled a terrorist plot, became disillusioned with the Alliance and ended up with Cerberus. That he didn’t have a misspent youth as a space pirate or a Krogan testicle trader, well that works for me.

    The thing that got my bile duct working overtime was the bloody stupid introduction of an unnecessary ammo system that seemed to be inspired by the inside of Scorpius’ head (from Farscape). Every time I picked up a thermal clip I could hear the voice of Wayne Pygram somewhere in the back of my mind saying “Braca! Insert the rod!”

  43. Corporate Dog says:

    Heh… I experienced loss in my first playthrough, and that’s what spurred on my second playthrough.

    I thought I had made all the right decisions. I, too, sent Zaeed back to the ship, because I, too, felt he was expendable.

    But my Zaeed survived. It was my Mordin who caught a bullet. And out of all the characters on the ship, he was the ONE guy I most looked forward to reuniting with in ME3.

    Darth Vader had nothing on my exclamation of ‘Nooooooooo!’.

    • archonsod says:

      I sent Zaeed back and had him survive too. Although everyone survived, even Mordin.

  44. Jimbo says:

    I think ME2 will definitely be considered a classic, maybe even a seminal piece of gaming history one day – depending on how things go – but not for the reasons explored so far.

    The elements touched on here ‘merely’ make it a very, very good game, and one which will definitely be in contention for GOTY*, but to me, Mass Effect 2 is more important than that. It is one of those games that transcends GOTY and is genuinely ‘Important’. I’ll wait for the further part/s though before going into that, because I’ve only really seen people talking passionately about the character side of it before, and I’m interested to see what KG has to say about the rest of it.

    As for the stuff touched on here: I agree; the characters were ace. Maybe one or two too many Family Issues in the loyalty missions (Jacob, Miranda, Thane, Samara), but even they were all different enough to remain interesting. The ‘Archangel’ setup and mission was outstanding – though it’s a real shame they spoiled the reveal for that in a trailer before the game came out.

    The whole structure of the ending was great (far better than the actual content of the ending). They succeeded in making the player really feel like a leader for once, instead of just a guy doing what the voice in your ear tells you to do – there was a palpable burden of responsibility and it was entirely on you. Then they pile on the sense of urgency by putting the tunnel guy/gal’s life in your hands, which can only work at all because you care so much about your team by that point.

    What was happening in the story by this point was far and away the weakest part of the game (really, it was bad), yet this still ended up easily being my favourite section of the game, just because the craftsmanship of the game design on display here was so good. It’s pretty risky to throw in such an important mechanic (the tactical decision making) at the last minute, but it totally paid off. The sense of responsibility and urgency came together and carried an otherwise weak ending.

    That part of the game got me to thinking a lot about how games are afraid to let the player feel that burden of responsibility nowadays, and how they had just proven how it could still work in a modern game. It made me want a proper mission-based Rainbow Six style game, just riffing off of that ‘rough plan -> unexpected problem -> decision -> outcome’ mechanic the whole way through.

    *Red Dead Redemption is feeling like the first serious GOTY competition and I recommend people check it out if they can. Don’t be put off by not liking GTA 4 – I didn’t either.

    • Tei says:

      I have good reasons to think is not a classic.

      1) Is formulaic. The “mission” system, the shape of all rooms of all areas (cover system ala Gears of War). A a point you think “Oh, another fidelity mission”, is gamey, you see the internal structure, is not hidden from view.
      2) Contains grinding elements. The farm minerals “minigame”. Arguabilly, the fidelity missions.

      At 2 hours in the game, you already have a idea what is the structure of the game. This is weird for a RPG, on a RPG you don’t know what follows.

      I think is not A classic, but can be your classic, and can be a classic for lots of people.

    • kyrieee says:

      It’s not classic because you can point of flaws? That’s not a good argument

      I think it will be a classic simply through the power with which it engages people. Just look here in this comments thread how much people have to say about it. This is a game that I believe will stick with people and be something that’s always remembered. Personally I feel it’s a special game and when I look around I see a ton of other people saying it’s special to them too; it’s something extra.

  45. Obdicut says:

    Why does anyone believe the people telling you it’s a suicide mission?

    I don’t get that part. I didn’t believe them. They had no clue what we were really going to face, and how it was going to go. They couldn’t know either way.

    So that bit, the OMG I survived a suicide mission! didn’t bug me at all. Of course i survived it, and so did (most) of my crew. I’m goddamn Shepherd. I kill Reapers. This is what I do.

    • Klaus says:

      Why does anyone believe the people telling you it’s a suicide mission? … They couldn’t know either way.
      Given what they do know of it; Unknown life, people enter the relay to never return, can’t be contacted and what not, it’s a pretty safe bet that those people are dead and it’s suicide.
      Edit: I am not used to using the forum at all.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      Obdicult: Because it’s an uninteresting anti-climax if it’s not.

      “Don’t worry Luke – it may be called the Death Star, but it’s actually more a Fearsome Frigate. You’ll be fine”.

      KG

  46. sebmojo says:

    Really nice article Kieron.

    For me I spent ages before the final mission because I loved the game so much I didn’t want it to end. Though I skipped through all the the dialogue in Miranda’s mission because I hated her so much, so it was faintly puzzling why everyone was shooting me in that hanger at the end. ‘So – are we talking or shooting?’ BAM BAM BAM ZAP BAM BAM. ‘Right.’ Something to do with clones…? Whatever, don’t care. Die Ocker die.

    I kind of disagree with your main point, that giving people the ability to keep their whole team alive cheapens, or diminishes the emotional punch. Not least because you need to at least think on a method that would be better.

    Seems to me the only alternatives would be either something like ME1 where you choose who dies (which woudl be way to obvious a repeated device) or a completely random but unavoidable death (which they come close to with the hidden ‘hold the line’ statistic, but it’s still susceptible to thoughful choice – essentially a simple puzzle).

    If you had to pick a crewmember for a task in the final mission that was certain death, you’d just end up choosing Miranda (in my case) or Zaeed (in yours). So you’d select out the character that had the least connection with you.

    I suppose completely random death is a workable option… but it seems cheap. Because then it’s not random, is it? It’s a death quota you have to meet before you leave, instead of the consequence of decisions you make. The latter seems much more powerful.

    • Jimbo says:

      Yeah, I don’t think that an unavoidable team-mate death would have added much either, and would have taken away from those players that did have somebody die – because that death would feel like it was preordained, rather than as a result of your own bad decisions. For instance, I didn’t feel anything about the Kaidan/Ashley choice in ME 1, because it wasn’t a result of my leadership, it was forced on me by the designer and they didn’t even try to hide that fact.

      Also, they did kinda have a mini Aeris moment in ME2, with the wreckage of the Normandy at the start. The full-blown Aeris moment can only be Joker dying whilst saving you, and that won’t happen until ME3.

  47. Wizlah says:

    Glad to hear so many people feeling bad about reloading after someone died. I feel lousy about reloading after tali copped it, but when I tried the first time, that door was taking so damn long to close and I just knew someone was going to die. Proper pit of the stomach stuff. Turned out I shouldnae have picked zaeed as the distraction team leader.

    during a quiet moment the next day, I knew I couldn’t let it fall out that way, but wasn’t judicious enough in my reading, so found out that garrus was the solution to all my problems for the rest of the mission. Maybe I should have let tali die. I may go back to that save and play it out with her dying.

    More generally, I do think it’s the best thing that bioware has done, because I think it transcends their own limitations. Last year I played KoTOR for the first time and was left distinctly non-plussed. But when I completed Mass effect 1, I was glad I’d seen what bioware had been at before.

    I like playing ambiguous characters, and bioware previously didn’t seem to give you much room for that. Granted, the star wars universe is awfully polarised, but still, I was impressed with the comparitive complexity evident when shephard articulated my dialogue choices. Every now and then it jarred, but for the most part she played like a hard ass who liked finding out how people ticked, and who for the most part took pragmatic decisions. It feels like they polished up their writing even more in ME2 (I don’t know whether they did, but it felt smoother). Conversations felt less obviously like they were seesawing between paragon/renegade options.

    And although I liked most of the the characters in ME1, I could see the flaws in the writing. I could get why Tali would annoy some people. Me, I had a soft spot for her resilience and preparedness to shoot people with a shotgun. I liked wrex just because his opening line was always ‘Shephard.’ I assumed the guy was always okay to chew the fat with, but that was down to my interpretation of a somewhat limited character, not great writing.

    Somehow the script in ME2 fleshed out the characters in a way that made sense to me. They developed how I expected them too – Garrus, Wrex, Tali, Liara and Ashley all played out in the way I thought they would, but were better for it. Maybe I’m not imaginative enough, but it did the trick and it felt like I was actually building relationships with all these people. Even if Jack did tell me to stop talking to her because she hated me talking all the time.(I think she still likes me, mind.)

    Crucially, the writing affected my own decisions, and helped me to not game the system. The best example of this was the writing of liara. My shephard had a romance with her in the first game, and I enjoyed getting the opportunity to yell at her in hard ass fashion to get herself to an escape pod. The game felt right from the get go. Then seeing how she’d changed from that brief encounter was a bit of a shock, and one of the rare times when I actually went back to a previous save and changed some of the conversation, because I was kinda thrown by her driven, somewhat dispassionate persona, and didn’ t respond in the way shephard probably should have done. If you think about it, was right for the situation. I should have been wrong-footed. If the dialogue could have played out longer, I could probably have got shephard to say what she needed to, but the option wasn’t there, so I went back and did it again.

    My shephard ended up not getting it on with anyone else. Sure, she was tempted plenty by Garrus, who had turned from this younger brother figure to an angry bitter, mixed up mess hiding behind his BLACK/WHITE poker arsed exterior. But the conversations with Liara, and knowing that potentially there would be implications in ME3 prevented me. Liara had become very similar to my shephard, and I didn’t think it was right for her. What if she found out about garrus? who could pull her back from the brink then? She’d just go on getting tougher and harder. Didn’t like the thought of that at all.

    Mass Effect managed to convince me that actually, my character was in love with Liara. Pretty good trick. Got a proper emotional kick to the nuts when she’s just looking at the pic of Liara before going through the relay. It was right for the character I’d been playing.

    I agree with most people that ME2 probably stops just short of classic status as an overall game. But I think they’ve done an exceptional job with the script to have it make me think about my decisions so much, and if the game isn’t classic, to my mind, there are very few games with better writing. Really, I’m pushed to think of any off the top of my head that have affected my gameplay so substantially.

    • Jimbo says:

      Kinda hard to judge the merits of KOTOR if you didn’t play it until last year. It is perhaps somewhat diminished by just how influential it was. As opposed to something like, say, Deus Ex, which is enhanced by how uninfluential it was.

      At the time, KOTOR was revolutionary – and it felt like it.

    • Philipp says:

      I think they’ve done an exceptional job with the script to have it make me think about my decisions so much, and if the game isn’t classic, to my mind, there are very few games with better writing. Really, I’m pushed to think of any off the top of my head that have affected my gameplay so substantially.

  48. Ayeohx says:

    An excellent article. Best one I’ve read in quite a while, thanks!

  49. alex says:

    An interesting perspective. I think it’s worth pointing out, though, that from Bioware’s perspective your complaints are undoubtedly in the vast minority. I ASSURE you that if they had more random, unpredictable deaths of the sort that would make you happier, 10 times more people would flip the fuck out. Even the marginal ones they have now enrage people; in fact, it’s a lot like the forced-to-fail scenario you reference.

    • Wulf says:

      I think that’s because a game is less like a book and more like a choose-your-own-adventure. This is why I like choices in an RPG, and it’s frustrating to be told as the co-author of the story that you’re unable to write that, but this is also why an RPG with a huge amount of choices can be a resounding success.

      This is my story, the way I choose to write it, and it’s probably different from your story, and from their story, and so on, and so on. In an RPG, if everyone is forced to have the same story then someone’s going to feel a bit cheated, because it’s an understandable viewpoint that if you put in the work as the co-author and you don’t shirk on creating the plot then you should be able to have the end-result plot you desire. If you’re lazy then the choice is taken from you and the plot is written without you, and that’s reasonable, but otherwise the outcome should be the decision of the player.

      As another person pointed out (in a reply to my post above), the ending was a moment of triumph in my case. These are amazing people. They might not be in your story, or in Kieron’s, but in mine they’re simply amazing, and they would not die easily. Nothing that happened in Mass Effect 2 would be enough to polish them off, they’re simply too adept, too brilliant, they’re better at life than life. Just killing characters like that off is a bit stupid, really, and pointless, and it seems like poor quality writing. But that’s from my personal perspective.

      If the characters in your game are a bit useless, then you might want to see them die, but that’s what being a co-author in an RPG is about. You help to decide the nature of the characters, you help to outline their personality, their effectiveness, and eventually you get to outline their fate. So in the end we can either have swathes die, a few die, or we can have everyone live. This is the only thing that works, really, because otherwise it feels lazy.

      What I’m getting at is that if there were any forced failures, it would feel lazy because I’d get this feeling that someone else’s story would’ve been tacked on top of mine, that they hadn’t bothered to create an outcome tailored to the sort of story that I was co-authoring. That’s why I’d get annoyed at forced-failures, because as a co-author I’d have had no choice in it. I’m fine with that in an adventure game or something, where I have little control and the game is telling me a narrative, but in an RPG I expect to be able to control the flow of events through my labour.

      And thus, if there had been a forced failure with forced deaths I would’ve gone batshit about it too, but a very eloquent form of batshit where I simply would have called them on being lazy basts, and just taping a generic ending to everyone’s game. Because that’s what forced failure feels like in an RPG (and sometimes in an RPG-ish action adventure game, too): generic, forced, and lazy.

      In my opinion, the strength of an RPG is in its ability to read what the co-author (the player) is up to and to work with the player to fashion a customised storyline. Hence roleplaying. The ultimate form of this is something like Sleep is Death when you have a really great storyteller. But even single-player games like Mass Effect 2 can try to account for as many possible player choices as possible, and they’ll be stronger for it. Plus it gives the game a lot more replay value. Maybe someone would want to play through once and have everyone die, a huge tragedy, then have most of them live on another, and all the other choices in between.

      But this is my favourite part of an RPG and it always has been. It’s always been that way. I remember back in Ultima VII how I’d do the same, working very hard to fashion a perfectly tailored story in that wonderful world. And I’d only go from one segment of the story when I was prepared and ready, so that I’d be able to create the desired outcome, whatever that outcome is.

      And really, that’s what I think is special about RPGs. If an RPG ever loses sight of that, it’s not so much an RPG at all any more, but something entirely lesser.

  50. Bret says:

    Only somewhat related by way of common Dirty Dozen/Magnificent Seven/Seven Samurai heritage, but, well, the post made me want to ask.

    Kieron, you bothered to read Last Stand of the Wreckers? Transformers mini just finished. Rag tag bunch of misfits sent into a hellish mission to retrieve an unknown payload of inestimable value, violence ensues.

    Was rather good, I thought.

    (And it had Impactor in it, so kinda right up your alley.)