Mass Effect 2 (2010)

Following my playthrough of Mass Effect, I noted that while the game told an intriguing story, its gameplay was clunky and needed to be streamlined and smoothed out for a sequel. Luckily, Mass Effect 2 achieves exactly that. The gameplay of Mass Effect 2 greatly improves upon its predecessor by cutting out filler and creating a more fulfilling experience. That being said, there were still a few minor issues in Mass Effect 2, some gameplay related, others story related.


By far and away the largest improvement in Mass Effect 2 was the improvement of the side missions. In the original Mass Effect, most side missions consisted of dropping down to a desolate planet, driving the frustrating-to-control Mako around for a while, and then clearing out a copy-and-pasted base of enemies that must have been reused a dozen times for these side missions.  Luckily in Mass Effect 2, the Mako has been removed completely and each side mission is individually crafted for a more unique and engaging experience. Some other gameplay improvements include weapon upgrades, squad power usage, better level design, smoothing out the movement, and the switch to an ammo system. All of these functions serve to make combat far more entertaining than the original game when it comes to combat.


The weapon and upgrade system in the original Mass Effect was clunky and required a lot of time just navigating the hundreds of upgrades that the player would acquire. There were a ton of different guns and upgrades that the player had to sift through to find what they would want, and a limited inventory meant that you had to frequently throw out many of these items just to keep clear space for new upgrades. In Mass Effect 2, this process has been streamlined so you no longer have to navigate menus for long intervals to pick out upgrades for you and your squad. Another big change was the switch from guns having a heat system to guns having ammo. I mostly enjoyed this change, as the heat system further increased how long you had to sit behind cover for weapons to cooldown. Ammo on the other hand lets you stay shooting for longer, and a reload is quick than waiting for your gun to cooldown.


All those improvements in mind, one design choice is particularly baffling. In Mass Effect 2, the player must pilot their ship through space to land on the different planets. What is strange is the decision that the player must constantly purchase fuel. Fuel is remarkably cheap in this game so I really don’t understand the purpose of including it. It doesn’t gate the player using money or anything, all it serves to do is waste your time by making you visit a refueling station once in a while. The other bizarre addition was the method for collecting resources. In order to upgrade your weapons, armor, and ship, you must collect a few different types of resources. There are minute amounts bit of these resources lying around for you to collect when you’re on a planet and exploring on foot, but the vast majority of these elements are found by probing planets. Essentially, you must buy probes, fly to a planet, slowly move your scanner across the surface, and launch a probe whenever it detects an abundance of resources. Similarly, to the fuel, the probes are incredibly inexpensive, so this system only serves to waste time. If you need any resources to upgrade your equipment you essentially have an infinite amount, you just have to painstakingly probe planets to get those resources.


These minor complaints aside, Mass Effect 2 massively improved upon Mass Effect in every way. The only exception to that was that I personally enjoyed the original’s story better. The bulk of the main missions in Mass Effect 2 were recruiting your squad and doing their loyalty missions. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed recruiting all the different characters and then doing another mission to make them loyal. There were all interesting from both a gameplay and a narrative perspective. However, I have two main issues with this system. The first issue is that it felt completely disconnected from the main plot. In the original game, most companions were recruited organically through the main plot. You would be doing a mission and meet these characters naturally. In Mass Effect 2, the game outright tells you “Go here and recruit this character”. This feels far more artificial than original, and to make it worse, most of the characters are disconnected from the main plot entirely. In the original game, characters often felt more invested in the plot and just felt more connected. In Mass Effect 2, I felt like only two or three of the characters impacted the plot in a significant manner. The rest just felt glued on and just served to help the player in combat. The second issue with making so much of the game reliant on the squad missions is that the actual main plot of the game is ridiculously short. There are only five main story missions (six if you count the introduction). I think the developers counted each of the self-contained squad missions as main missions, leaving the central plot very short. That being said, all of the subplots and even the main plots itself were strong, I just wish there was more if it.


My final issue with Mass Effect 2 is coincidentally with the final mission in the game. Without spoiling anything, you essentially assign your squad mates to different tasks throughout the mission. For example, you have to pick a technological expert to do a certain task. I thought this was an intelligent design decision, as it rewards players who learned their partner’s strengths and did the additional mission to make them loyal. If you pick incorrectly or your squad is not loyal, there is a chance that one of your squad members will die. Again, I quite enjoyed figuring out who is best for what role, but the final “selection” does not sit well with me. Mostly because it is not communicated to be a selection at all. Instead, you pick your standard two squad mates to go and fight the final boss, and the rest of the squad is left behind to watch your back. If you bring two of your best fighters to take on the boss, one of your other squad mates who you left behind to watch your back will perish. To me this felt incredibly cheap, if it were properly communicated that you should leave behind strong members, this would have been completely fine. Furthermore, the game kills off an important squadmate rather unceremoniously and when it happened to me I was confused as to what had just happened. Overall, this final selection was just poorly implemented and need to be better communicated to the player.

All in all, Mass Effect 2 is a strong entry to the series, and a definite improvement over the original game. While the episodic short stories that were told throughout the squad missions were engaging, the main plot felt a bit lacking. However, massive improvements made to the gameplay elevated Mass Effect 2 above the original. As a whole, Mass Effect 2 has solidified itself as a classic sci-fi RPG, worthy of the praise that it has received.


Mass Effect (2007)

While some believe Mass Effect to be outdated and clunky, it is the necessary starting point for a legendary series. While the original Mass Effect definitely has not aged well, I believe it would be an injustice to the series and yourself to skip over it to play the more refined sequels. Mass Effect is a space action-RPG (role-playing game), and while the “action” and gameplay is dated, the RPG aspects are still top-notch and make Mass Effect a game worth playing. Deep lore, emotional decisions, strong story-telling, and an intriguing plot are the factors that make Mass Effect successful.

One of the major elements of Mass Effect is the depth of its lore and its expansive universe. Codex and journal entries are available to the player if they ever want to learn more about the missions they are doing or the lore behind the universe. Various entries on the different alien species, including their physiology, galactic presence, and their history. Everything in this game has an explanation and background info if you are interested to learn more about something in particular. Knowing the backgrounds and the relationships between all the alien species definitely adds depth and a factor of validity to this game.

The characters and the story are the defining factors of Mass Effect for me. You play as Commander Shepard and are in charge of the space vessel Normandy and her crew. Most of the time you will be interacting with your “squad” as they are the ones that you can bring along with you to combat. It is definitely a rewarding and almost cozy feeling as you build up your squad and add new members to it at the beginning of the game. Throughout the course of the game you talk with them, get their input on certain situations, build friendship, help them complete certain personal quests, or even romance them. What sets Mass Effect apart from other shooters is the reliance on this squad both on and off of the battlefield. Other games suffer from the protagonist doing everything while other characters just sit around, but in Mass Effect your squad is a massive part of the game. It adds a sense of legitimacy and realness to the game. This is why certain decisions and choices that must be made are so emotional. You build up this squad, fight with them, train them, and interact with them, so when a squad mate gets killed off in the story, it is a devastating blow.

The story of Mass Effect is full of mystery, intrigue, and emotion. The basic premise is that you must figure out what happened to an advanced alien species that died off 50,000 years ago, and you must prevent the same fate from happening to humans and their allies. The game feeds you piecemeal clues as you progress through the story. Seemingly unconnected events and plot-lines all come together by the end to form a cohesive and alluring plot. The story was paced well, there is never any downtime and I was always wanting to see what happened next. There are plenty of individual decisions and choices that you must make in this game. Some choices are minor, while others play a huge role in whats to come. You get to decide the fate of many lives and species. My only issue with this was that it was a little too rewarding to be the “nice guy”. There is rarely any downside going with the games heroic “paragon” options. I wish there was more incentive to be neutral or even go with the “renegade” option. There were a few points in the game that did this right, but for the most part the paragon route is the most rewarding option by a long shot.

While the RPG aspects of Mass Effect are clearly masterclass, the gameplay is definitely clunky and unsatisfying. Enemies often times have tons of health and shields, and some take minutes to take down a single basic enemy. This is compounded by the fact that the guns that you are using do a pittance of damage and overheat frequently, so you are forced to stop shooting for long stretches of time. There is no jumping or hurdling objects, so you have to slowly navigate even the smallest of obstacles. Constantly re-equipping your squad of 7 members with 4 types of weapons, upgrades for those weapons, and armor just gets tedious. Your squad mate’s special abilities often feel underwhelming as there is no big audio or visual cue when they are being used. For some reason, you can only sprint in combat, but not out of combat, which is when you really want to be sprinting so you can get around faster. There is an excessive amount of loading screens and elevators, which just waste a ton of time. Travelling from planet to planet is also tedious. Realistically, getting around anywhere in this game is just slow and draining. Driving the Mako vehicle is easily one of the worst driving experiences in any game that I have played. It goes extremely slow, defies physics, is tough to handle, and it does not even shoot where you aim it. This is made even more frustrating by the fact that you often have to scale cliffs with this abomination of a vehicles. Some of the biggest gameplay problems stem from the sidequests. They often drop you off in barren worlds, leaving you to drive the Mako across a vast nothingness for a few minutes. Then when you finally reach the building where the quest is located, you realize that it is the same exact layout as every other sidequest in the game, so you essentially repeat the same firefight that you have done many times before.

While the gameplay of Mass Effect could be categorized as clunky, repetitive, and tedious, it is still a worthwhile game. Not only to set up the legendary sequels, but also because the characters and story can keep you playing despite the tedium. The biggest improvement that should be made from Mass Effect for its follow-up titles is that it definitely needs to be streamlined in places. Trim off the banal tasks and clean up the controls and overall movement to make the game less monotonous and burdensome at times. All in all, it is worth sticking through the mediocre gameplay just for the RPG elements. And if you avoid doing sidequests you will skip over a lot of problematic sections altogether. Mass Effect might not be perfect, but it is still worth a play through. I am very excited to see what Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3 have in store for me, and if they could solve the issues of Mass Effect.