Thursday, September 29, 2011
Second Time's A Charm: Re-Discovering Mass Effect 2
Have you ever played a game that everyone has been raving about, only to find that it doesn't live up to your expectations and you end up shelving the game? That's been the story with many A-list titles that have come out over the past few years. For every over-hyped game like LA Noire and Dead Space 2 that I love, there are games like Red Dead Redemption and Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion that I don't. This has nothing to do with disliking mainstream or successful titles, since there are many that I have played and thoroughly enjoyed. It's more a matter of some games not clicking with me due to the frame of mind I was in at the time, what else I was playing that divided my attention or simply because I didn't enjoy them. Hey, everyone is entitled to their opinion and there is no such thing as a game that -everyone- loves. Up until this past weekend, the Mass Effect series has been the epitome of games that everyone raves about but I simply do not get. I played the first game and very quickly got bored of the slow-moving plot and clunky combat controls, and after hearing great things about part 2, I gave it a try and felt much the same way about it. Both games were shelved and subsequently forgotten amidst the numerous other games I was playing.
Fast forward to this past weekend. I was feeling under the weather and decided to randomly go back to a game that I haven't played in a long time. After staring blankly at my shelves for a while, I decided to pick Mass Effect 2 even though I haven't played it in well over a year, and even then I didn't get more than an hour into it. Good sense told me that starting with the first game would be a better idea, but remembering how much I disliked the combat controls pushed me towards the sequel. After fumbling with the learning curve for about an hour, I got more into it and I eventually hit that "eureka!" moment where I found myself thoroughly enjoying the game in ways I never did before. Every gamer knows this feeling and it's one of the main reasons why we are so passionate about this hobby. Given that I was sick and had absolutely no responsibilities to anyone that weekend, I ended up investing over 30 hours into not only the campaign but the side-quests as well. Recruiting new and interesting characters into your party, doing side-missions to gain experience and the loyalty of your crew, and mining planets for minerals became my addiction and I could spend hours just getting immersed into the Mass Effect universe.
The reasons why Mass Effect 2 reeled me in are down to simple elements that every game should have; good story-telling and great gameplay. You can't spend this length of time in the game without getting attached to your characters, and the story is progressed largely through dialogue that you select. Playing it nice with people earns their loyalty and "paragon" points, while those wishing to play it nasty can have a different experience and gain "renegade" points. How you conduct yourself and the decisions you make ultimately shape how the game plays out and it's impossible not to feel emotionally invested. The gameplay, and in particular the combat, is where Mass Effect 2 really shines. Fashioned as a third-person, cover-based shooter, the combat has been refined to make it more fast-paced and more accessible to fans of games like Gears of War and Dead Space. The controls feel natural and intuitive, and the guns feel meaty and powerful. Given that Mass Effect 2 is an RPG at heart, there are layers of complexity when it comes to developing skills, weapons and ship upgrades, however the game is more streamlined and accessible than it's contemporaries. Those wishing to micro-manage their game will not take well to this approach, but more casual RPG fans will welcome the simplicity. In short, Mass Effect 2 hit all the right notes for me and it's a classic example of how revisiting games that you -thought- you didn't like can yield unexpected rewards.
Now that I have played through and beaten Mass Effect 2, including the DLC, I feel compelled to go back and pay the first game, however I am aware that I may be spoiled by the improvements made in the sequel. In addition to that, I am also feeling inspired to re-visit some games that I previously dismissed. These games include Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and Fallout 3. The latter game I revisited recently and experienced the same problems that I originally had; clunky combat system, poor controls, ammo shortages, frequent deaths and occasional freezing and crashing. I last game save also was at a point where I was down to my last two bars of health, only five bullets remaining and a bunch of enemies just outside the door. Not a good situation to find yourself in, so I am going to start a brand new game and grind away to ensure I am properly levelled. If there's anything I learned from Mass Effect 2, it's that patience can sometimes be rewarding, so I hope to continue this trend of finding new appreciation in games I had long since written-off.
Mass Effect 2 is available in Xbox 360, PC, and an enhanced version has since been released on the Playstation 3.