10 terrible things from Mass Effect 2: the awful characters
We loved Mass Effect 1 so much that we somehow missed that Mass Effect 2 was pretty terrible. Let’s talk about some very badly designed characters.
It would be fair to say that Mass Effect 2 received universal acclaim from critics when it was released. It didn’t deserve it. Whatever the reason, the game journalism community gave ME2 a critical pass.
With Mass Effect 3’s demo coming out in less than a week, I’m revisiting Mass Effect 2 in a four part series. This post will look at some significant flaws with characters in the game. We’ll follow up with posts examining the design of the game itself, the writing and concluding with the five worst elements of Mass Effect 2.
10: Mordin the geeksploitation.
Bioware clearly thinks very little of its core audience from Mass Effect 1. Mordin is the most insidious example of this disrespect. Mordin’s character is the geek on the team. While the rest of your team have superpowers or are action stars, Mordin’s the guy who spends the time he isn’t in your squad sitting around doing research in the lab.
In other words, Mordin, “the professor,” is a stand-in for the average video-game-playing audience, or at least the type of person who’s expected to like the RPG-stylings of the original Mass Effect.
How is he characterized then?
He’s anti-social, unable to fully express emotion, unable to engage in any type of relationship, either with the male or female Shepard. He’s autistic, one of only two characters in the entire Mass Effect universe who is unable to speak proper English. Since everyone else can speak well, including others of his race, it’s clear that this isn’t some universal translator breakdown, he’s just too dysfunctional to speak correctly.
Now, you might claim that the Mass Effect lore somehow supports Mordin’s behavior, but compare a prominent salarian character from Mass Effect 1 to Mordin and you’ll see a significant difference.
Makes you feel all fuzzy inside, doesn’t it?
9: Making exposition a racial trait: Thane’s ridiculous flashbacks.
So I got this cool new assassin on my team. I go over to talk with him and in the middle of things he starts to babble in incomplete sentences.
Apparently Bioware forget how to incorporate exposition into the telling of a story, instead giving it out in badly written flashbacks. To make it even worse, they wrote this into the lore, so now there’s an entire species who has a racial trait of spouting off gobs of back-story. That just defines lazy writing.
Why are Thane’s verbal flashbacks interspersed in unassociated speech? Why does he have them? Why do they require a creepy closeup of his face?
We will never know.
8: Too little Garrus.
I have no problem with Garrus’s ever increasing bad-assery. Really, I was only disappointed with how there was relatively little Garrus. Yes, it’s awesome when you meet up with him. I just wish I could have had more time being Microchip to his Frank Castle.
This was a serious missed opportunity. Garrus’s writing in ME2 was some of the best characterization done in the game. This is partially because, for the short period you’re helping him out, he’s the protagonist.
Considering the characters you collect as squad-mates, this really should have happened more often. I’d like to see more games take the opportunity to have significant periods where the player character is not the primary protagonist of a plot.
7: AI on my God Damn Ship.
The whole universe justifiably distrusts AI to the point where it is pretty much outlawed. Cerberus, however, has decided to drop an AI on your ship. There is a brief objection by Joker and perhaps you, but it’s not a very strong one. This just doesn’t make any sense.
We know what happens with AI in the Mass Effect universe, so why would you risk it? They don’t give any real reason beyond Cerberus spying on you, but that’s not a real reason. You just bug the ship and you’d get the same result without the huge security risk. Which brings us to…
6: Putting the Captured Geth in the Server Room.
You have just captured a member of a robotic species famous for subverting networks, killing all organics, and spiking dead human bodies to turn them into aggressive robotic husks. Where do you put it? Oh I know, in the central location for all computer systems in your ship, right next to the sketchy AI’s server.
No! You put it in a goddamn Faraday cage!
No one even mentions that you’ve just given the geth the ability to take over your ship. It’s just, ‘oh, this is a computer and we have some other computers, let’s put all the computer things together.’
5: Making the Krogans Boring.
When I went to Tuchanka, I was excited to get a more in depth look at krogans. I wanted to get more exposure to the whole tortured honorable warrior thing I’d seen in some of the krogans in Mass Effect 1. I wanted to see an interesting different race fallen on the toughest of times.
Too bad all I got was a boring slum in which the NPCs were written without any real unique characterization.
If you save the scout as part of the side mission you receive an email back which includes the line: “Thanks. Next time I have a chance to kill a human, I won’t. Unless I go into blood rage or something.”
“Or something”? Really? I didn’t know that krogans were west-coast millennials. The writing for the krogans was an immense disservice to the initial work characterizing them in Mass Effect 1.
4: Not Enough Tali.
Tali and her background are one of the most interesting parts of the Mass Effect universe. In fact the Quarians, with their political issues and conflict with the geth, are practically at Mass Effect’s center. Missions with Tali could have provided the opportunity to casually increase the depth of the player’s interaction with the greater narrative. It’s a shame they didn’t put more in.
Even her mission was surprisingly devoid of real content beyond some new knowledge of the political structure of her race. Every interaction with the Quarians, and especially Tali, is an opportunity to show us the back-story of the universe, not just tell it to us.
3: The Smoking Man.
Oh, I’m sorry, I meant The Illusive Man. You can see why I might be confused, right? Because they’re the same exact character. They both keep secrets from the public, are part of a quasi-government-related organization, and make the choices that those with morals cannot. Oh, and all the smoking, because that’s somehow mysterious.
Yes, Martin Sheen did a great job voicing The Illusive Man. It’s too bad his character provides absolutely no new innovations on the ‘maintaining the order by being outside of the order’ archetype. He could have been Sloan or Sloane and no one would have been able to tell the difference.
Ok, I guess he did provide one innovation on the modern archetype… his name doesn’t start with ‘Sloan.’
Characters like The Illusive Man gain their attraction and value for the rarity of their appearances in a narrative. He was not rare enough in ME2, let’s make him even more elusive in ME3.
2: Bad companion design
The characters from Mass Effect 1 were just better written and more interesting than the ones introduced in Mass Effect 2.
The entirety of Zaeed’s charicterization was ‘I’m tough, I’m a mercenary, check out my scar.’
Then there is the Asari teammate who is so replaceable that you can swap her for a nearly identical version half-way through her loyalty mission. Samara and Morinth are so spectacularly bland that even the developers can’t be bothered to remember who’s who. We won’t even go into the weird implications that Asari are apparently so interchangeable that no one on your team notices.
Jacob has little depth besides his weird loyalty mission and resulting daddy issues. He and Miranda are difficult to take seriously within the context of their service to Cerberus. Considering all the terrible things Cerberus does, how can you take the game’s attempts to make them sympathetic seriously?
Thane is a weirdly bad copy and paste job of Garrus, right down to his skill set. They have the same class skills, both came to their jobs by following the laws of their cultures, tend to work alone, are ruthless, and focus on tactical analysis and infiltration. Thane seems to be distinguished by being green and wearing a trench coat.
The squad choices also had a great deal of overlap in companion character skill sets, making me wonder what incentive I’d have to use one over the other.
There just weren’t enough companion missions and input. In Mass Effect 1, your companions mattered, they were your partners. You might even have cared about them. In the second game, they’re just set pieces.
Wow that last boss battle was terrible. Let’s ignore for a minute that you just took down a huge mechanical uber-enemy with your pistol, not to mention the numerous other problems with the final boss, and take a look at the idiot.
What is that? Why does it have three eyes?
Join Aram on Saturday, February 4 for part two: Mass Effect 2: game design hell.