The 5 worst things from Mass Effect 2

Mass Effect 2 did not deserve the highly positive response it received. The game is flawed at every level and our love of its predecessor has blinded us to its many problems. This post examines the five worst elements.

This is the final part of my four part series on the flaws of Mass Effect 2. Though the series was meant to be a lead-up to the Mass Effect 3 demo, but god must be a Mass Effect fan, because I was incapacitated by illness before I could finish this article on the day the demo came out. Better late than never.

The first post in the series was about the awful characters. The second examined the hellishly bad decisions in the game’s design. Part three enumerated 20 instances of terrible writing.

These are the 5 most terrible elements from Mass Effect 2.

5: All geth are good geth.

I would like to bring to your attention the codex entry for the geth from Mass Effect 1. Please note the last line:

“It should be stressed, however, that in all forms the geth are universally violent creatures.”

We’ve already covered why the explanation for “good-guy geth” makes no sense. Also why it makes just as little sense to replace the geth with a new antagonist race that is almost completely identical in every way except the visual.

Now let’s talk about why suddenly making the geth mostly good-guys in order to teach us a hackneyed lesson about sapience was a terrible idea.

In Mass Effect 2 you discover that the geth are actually good folks, almost entirely nice robot-people that only killed off quarians in an attempt to survive. Apparently they now lovingly preserve the Quarian homeworld for their creator race, if the Migrant Fleet were ever to just ask for it back. Only a few (5%) geth are bad, the rest are just misunderstood.

This makes me seriously question if Bioware understands what ‘morality’ means. In Mass Effect 1 you make numerous attempts to free NPCs from reaper control, but not the geth. At no point did you try to negotiate or talk to the geth in the first game. This means that at the end of ME1, instead of being the conquering hero, you were sort of an asshole.

I think Bioware understood that this was a repercussion of their revelation because they try and cover it up by making Legion slavishly attracted to Shepard. It doesn’t work. Since Legion explained that the ‘hate humans’ switch in geth is randomly generated his reet moment with the armor feels less adorable (which I’m sure was the intent) and more disturbing.

Evil Inside.

This decision in the writing is morally troubling for another reason as well. The unspoken implication in ME2 is that you can only respect the self-aware nature of the geth now that they are on your side. The attempted lesson about ‘how we need to respect everyone no matter what they look like on the outside’/’judge not a book by its cover’ is not just an overused SF trope, but executed badly. A terrible choice only compounded by your later genocide.

You can’t have a heavy handed preach about respecting people for who they are and immediately follow it up by not respecting people for who they are.

There is also an incredible missed narrative opportunity. If ME2 really needed to drop the morality anvil on us, they could have done it much better by inverting the situation. Having you required to work together with Legion despite mutual hatred and distrust would have been far more effective in teaching us to respect others. At the very least an Enemy Mine situation would have been more engaging.

Alternatively, working with a small rebel group of ‘meatbags are ok’ geth could have been far more interesting than having them as the majority.

The entire ‘oh the geth are good-guys now’ sub-plot feels shoved in and is badly executed. If they were good, why didn’t they do something when their 5% were killing off colonists and turning them into husks? Why haven’t they offered to parlay with the quarians? Why aren’t they putting more power against the ‘old machines’?

It does not fit well with pre-ME2 cannon; the foreshadowing for this discovery is badly done in ME2 and far too obvious; and the story arc flunks at everything it is supposed to accomplish in its morality lesson.

4: A bunch of rapid pointless kill offs at the end of the game.

Remember the emotional weight of the squad-mate death or deaths in Mass Effect 1? Now, did you feel anything about the squad members who died in ME2? Do you even remember who you killed off?

The first game did a good job of making you care about your squad-mates, mostly by giving them real depth (as ME2 does not).

ME2 squad

They are apparently only here to go.

When there are moments you can loose a teammate in ME1, time was spent beforehand giving weight to the decisions you have to make and creating the understanding of serious consequences. Weight was given to them afterwords as well by creating space after the fact in which you can feel the consequences.

Most importantly of all, the deaths in ME1 were due to significant player agency.

Mass Effect 2 did not do any of these things. In the final mission you may end up killing numerous squad-mates in quick succession, without blinking an eye or having a moment of mourning. The result? They feel even more like flat interchangeable pawns at the end of the game then they did throughout.

The final mission has no emotional weight because any deaths that occur have no emotional weight. You select people from a dossier screen. Their deaths then occur off-screen. Take a moment and think how ludicrous it is that Bioware kills off characters, with which you’ve spent at least 30 hours playing, off screen. The worst part is I didn’t even care because no one had given me a reason to care about those characters. Nor does Shepard seems to have a personal stake in the mission or the crew.

Even worse, it’s not clear what level of control you had over deaths or why they die, or if they die because you put them in the wrong place or they were badly upgraded, or if they just die because that’s what happens at that point in the game.

Suicide Mission Flowchart

This type of design does not lead to clear player choices or a feeling of agency. It's just confusing.

The player agency in the final mission isn’t really agency at all, because you have no method by which to judge who to pick or why, it’s all guesswork. Bioware isn’t giving you control, they are just letting you flip some coins. Not only is this immensely frustrating, but it also destroys what little depth there might have been.

It’s not clear who you are sending to their death, so why should you care?

3: Ammo.

The “Acquire the Reaper IFF” mission is the proof that the ammo system in Mass Effect 2 doesn’t work. That’s not to say it works elsewhere, it doesn’t function at all, but the Dead Space-style level is the most significant example. When you have to place deposits of ammo every five feet when you’re building the level, your ammo system does not work.

Feros Geth Hopper

Because geth design clearly includes lots of pockets for heat clips.

There are too many places in the game where you don’t have enough ammo and plenty where you have too much. Despite the ‘universal’ ammo, you usually end up using whichever gun has the largest number of shots left.

The ammo feels like an afterthought. It’s like someone decided to drop it in half way through the development process. It seems as if they threw it in because limited ammo was expected by their new target audience.

The lack of ammo customization only compounds the issue.

The narrative explanation makes even less sense, that the heat sync tech is some new discovery from the geth now adopted all over the galaxy. Why would anyone switch from infinite ammo to finite ammo? There is no reason and Bioware’s attempt to explain it makes the situation seem even more ludicrous.

Then there’s the heavy weapon ammo, which is just annoying.

2: Scanning.

I didn’t think that anything could be worse than the Mako… and then there was.

Mass Effect 2 Scanning

You know what would make Minesweeper more fun? Getting rid of all the mines! Everyone likes just placing little flags on things, right?

Thanks to scanning, Mass Effect 2 is the first game which I’ve ever fallen asleep while playing. That’s how immensely boring it is. (Only one other game has ever accomplished this, L.A. Noire, which is so soporific I can not stay awake long enough to finish it.)

How this made it through play-testing truly boggles the mind. That Bioware chose to put this in a game and call it ‘fun’ is an insult to all gamer-kind. It screams out: ‘This is just how stupid we think you are, that you would find this interesting.’

Scanning is the Cow Clicker of the triple-A gaming world. That it is included in a game that we paid $60 for terrifies me for the future of all gaming.

If everything else in Mass Effect 2 had been executed perfectly and Scanning was its only flaw, that alone would make it a bad game.

1: The Narrow Universe.

It was difficult to select what terrible part of Mass Effect 2 would take slot 1. But when I thought about it, I realized that there was only one problem that could be at the end of this list. Nothing in ME2 more significantly indicates that the dev team lost track of what made the first game so good. This is the biggest reason that I believe if Mass Effect 1 never existed and this game was released by anyone other than Bioware it would have gotten a terrible response.

When we love a game and it gets a sequel, we all want to love it again. But when it lacks what made us love the first game we have to confront a hard truth. It’s just no good.

This issue is scale. I’ve addressed elements of it talking about the Presidium, and Omega. But it is a game-wide issue.

Mass Effect Earthrise

When you saw Earthrise it was a breathtaking moment.

Mass Effect 1 was a good game because it didn’t just give us player agency, it gave us player agency on a massive scale. The decisions Shepard makes during a play-through change the shape of the Mass Effect universe. You can save and destroy entire races; stand on the moon and look out at Earthrise; you can alter the entire political structure of the universe, or preserve it while bringing forth the agenda of the human race. You are the first human agent of the most powerful police force in the galaxy and you report to the council who rules it. You uncover century old secrets and you reveal hidden agendas.

You don’t just matter, you are pivotal. The choices you, the player, make are not cosmetic, they change the face of the Mass Effect universe.

Is this necessary for every game? No. But it is what makes Mass Effect Mass Effect. It’s what we were promised, especially with the save game transfer mechanic.

Mass Effect 2 lacks this sense of the epic in every way.

Instead, you are bogged down with mining planets whose surface you’ll never see and the mundanity of refueling and reloading your ship. The characters you travel with fight little fights, for little causes, on little worlds. The majority of time in-game consists of hunting down people for a final mission instead of actually accomplishing something.

Shepard is constantly reactive, never proactive. ME2 presents us with a fight, not for control of the universe, but “for the lost.” In the end the mystery is revealed to hide a larger foe, but compared with the scale of the first game, this is a tiny mystery. The question of who is behind it is known from minute one.

You fight for a man whose perspective is minuscule while designed to appear grand. When you’re finished, you don’t save anyone, you just destroy. In the end we are shown that nothing we’ve done has mattered at all!

Many hours of gameplay and all the player has accomplished is empowering some space Nazis. You make no progress in building a real defense against the reapers, or understanding their motivations. You don’t have the opportunity to change the hearts and minds of Mass Effect’s various races. You may not even have succeeded at building a decent crew, as some of them are likely dead. There is no epic sense to your accomplishment. In fact, there’s very little sense of accomplishment overall.

Cramped in ME2

Can't quite spread my arms...

This is not just a problem with the ending. Mission spaces feel a great deal smaller. Without the Mako, you go directly from environment to environment, many inside, some fairly cramped, without a decent feel for the planets you are on. The game often fails to use Bioware’s standard trick of huge environments off in the distance that you can never reach. As a result, even the spaces designed to be large feel small and often labyrinthine.

All these things combine to make Mass Effect 2 feel cramped, narrow in both physicality and purpose. The game adds little to the Mass Effect universe.

Depth and epic storytelling are what made Mass Effect 1 a success. Their lack is how I determine Mass Effect 2 to be a failure.

Thank you for reading! You can still find the other parts of this series online:

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  1. Andrew McDonald

    Now that I have read your whole writings on the subject, I think I should share a few of my thoughts.

    I never played the first ME game, and I’m fine with that. At the time it came out I really did not care. I’ve beat the second and I enjoyed it. I won’t argue that I felt a connection to any characters (I didn’t). I won’t argue about consistency (how would I know?). Yeah, the world is shallow and cramped.

    But I will not stand for you to disgrace scanning. It really changed my life. Just hopping from planet to planet, sucking the life out of entire solar systems. Now THAT is power. People years from now will search those planets and find nothing. There could have been colonies there. Entire new civilizations could be born as miners. But I just come in with my big pile of drones and am all like, “REJECTED!”

    Scanning has more impact on the universe in the long term than all of ME’s main storyline combined.

  2. Jordan

    Congratulations, you’ve written the worst series of articles on the internet.

    • Congratulations, you’re yet another internet commenter who does not defend a point, just goes straight for an insult.

      • Jordan

        Actually, I brought up many points when one of the articles was posted on the Nightmare Mode Facebook page. I could copy/paste if you’d like, since apparently no one reads the feedback on Facebook.

  3. Agree Entirely

    Hurrah for this series of articles – it’s awesome to see a thorough deconstruction of game that was completely over-rated on release. I really lost my trust in a LOT of reviewers who rated ME2 so highly. The idea of it being even in the running for GOTY was a complete joke to me – and showed that perhaps the criteria that people review by is based around shallow experience instead of deep analysis.

    ME’s universe crumbles in to faux-SciFi, “it’s actually fantasy in space suits”, inconsistent rubbish at the slightest inspection. And like seriously, Bioware, stop referencing so incredibly blatantly and badly. All it shows me is that Bioware’s world-building is lazily facile and lacking in any real imagination or creativity.

    Now just imagine if Bethesda had done planet-hopping SciFi in the TES/FO3 tradition. Sorry if this makes you cry.

  4. Pingback: Obligatory: Mass Effect 3 Ex Machina, Michael Bay, a demo | Nightmare Mode

  5. Mico Selva

    I really enjoyed these articles and I agree with most of the points. Good job.

  6. Lewis Williams

    I’ve played both Mass Effect 1 and 2 twice over. ME1 on hardcore and ME2 on Insanity and I pretty much 100 percented them, too. Overall I like ME2 more.

    Geth- Good point. However, the codex is not gospel. It also says the Geth were solely responsible for the attack on the Citadel. To all Alien species the Geth are Booger men.

    Suicide mission – Maybe it’s because on my first go I only lost Miranda that I found this part of the game to be surprisingly good and made me want to play the game again. Killing characters off screen does seem cheap, though, I agree.

    Scale – This was ME1’s failing, not 2’s. The council being sidelined and you killing them or not not having much effect on ME2 seems Bullshit, I agree. However, this is because they bit off far more than they could chew in ME1. They made grand statements in Mass effect 1 and then found they couldn’t back them up in 2. It’s ME ones problem that it made such absurd statements in the first place. Making statements is easy, backing them up is a whole other issue. Can you imagine if they carried on like this. By the time it came to ME3 they would have to have about 4 seperate and interwoven main storylines. How on earth would they achieve this. I’m sure EA would be happy about.

    “Okay you’ve spent a bajillion dollars and it’s taken you six years are you sure we’re going to make a return on this now.”

    This is the reality of making huge commercial release games. They’re not modders who the only thing they’ve got to spend is their time.

    Ammo – This I strongly disagree with. In ME1 you could camp and potshot too much. It added another layer of tactics to introduce ammo. With hand on heart honesty I never once ran out of ammo, even on insanity. Be more economical with it and use your biotics to maximum effect.

  7. Jim

    People would switch from infinite ammo to finite ammo if the damage of old weapons became insufficient.

    Better shields would have rendered old weapons and ammo system obsolete and only overdriving the system got results. At some point, shields become strong enough that only a very few weapons could still penetrate, rendering all but arm-shattering weapons obsolete. A new system was devised, where heat dissipated from weapon (which isn’t much – even today’s rapid fire weapons glow red hot – hence Gatling guns) could be upped to 1000 times what it was, thus making even the lowly hand gun a threat to any shield.

    ME2’s Normandy upgrades clearly show that shields have progressed to roughly twice, and that is ship design, not the cut throat private sector that makes armor.

    Slingshots and stones have unlimited ammo as well, yet we switched. The better the weapon, the more expensive the ammo is.

  8. Lueii

    You are joking about the old Mass Effect characters having depth right? Ashley was a stock soldier with daddy issues and no self-esteem with the quirks of being a Theist, racist, obsessive about family, (both of which are still part of the Cliche) and a Poetry fan. Kaidan had NO personality at all. He was basically Carth Onasi…without an interesting backstory, personality, or character. His personality quirk was constant headaches and telling what are basically High School stories. Garrus in ME 1 was funny and had some depth, but he was just a cardboard cutout cliche: Obsessed cop who doesn’t play by the rules. Tali is spunky and provides interesting exposition, but otherwise is just a maiden, blushing beneath her helmet at the player and spouting techno-babble. Wrex and Liara really are the only complex characters in that game. Liara is a nerd girl who is suffering for the sins of her mother. She is interested in everything and her conflict with Benezia is tragic. Although the Shepard romance is kinda weird in it’s writing, she really is meant to be the only person to consistantly support Shepard (besides Tali) and basically is the only character that Shepard has a consistant relationship with. She is the only one who didn’t abandon hope on you, even that is only in ME 2. She even matures as a character. Ashley in my game developed beyond racism as well and voted to save the Council…buts only because Bioware had the most aggressive member on your squad vote for the Council’s destruction. And I had brought Wrex. Speaking of which, he is also the only character with anything to him. And that’s because he is so vague about his backstory half the time. What he is, is a violent, honorable, but also amoral mercenary, from a dying culture who only desires what is best for his people.
    Compare them to a woman driven to cynical hatred of everything. Jack was an isolated lab-rat as a child, isolated from any interaction, which made her anti-social. She escaped only to have the last bit of innocence she had torn away by rape and her luck got worse and worse and her violent tendencies made from the lab experiments drove her to murdering as her only outlet. Afterwards, she became a sociopathic nihilist who everyone has given up hope for redemption, including herself. And she isn’t a straw nihilist with Nietzschean BS to justifiy her actions. She actually grows as a character because of your actions as well. Garrus is now basically Bruce Wayne from The Dark Knight Returns…except he lost his gang of vigilantes. He is a born leader unable to step into his rightful because the loss of all the people who trusted him cripple him to just being Shepard’s right-hand man. He is avoiding responsibility for anyone else’s life because he could fail again. Mordin is simply one of the best characters made in video gaming. Only Samara seems like a weak character, but she has charm to her. Grunt was interesting too but I didn’t like him that much because he doesn’t really have a past.
    In all, I remember striving to do the perfect mission to keep them alive and we all walked away alive. Yes Virmire is a hard choice…but lets be honest…we always picked Ash because Kaidan is BORING! So yes. Mass Effect 2 is better characterized, and that really is the point of the series. Not the worlds, but the inhabitants.

    • Hellisforotherpeople

      An excellent disposition, good sir! Whilst ME2 suffered from issues such as its muddled plot, the horrific non-entity that was the planet scanning and the lack of gravitas and scope, its effective use of characterization cannot be easily faulted. Granted, Zaeed is two-dimensional, as is Grunt to a lesser extent, but the manner in which the characters develop throughout the course of the game is both engaging and diverse. Each is unique: whilst some are better than others, each has a reason to exist and a certain charm that makes the game what it is: one of the best to grace the 20th century.

      Certainly, ME1 had the story and the sense of grandeur that pure space opera has, as well as possessing a much more in-depth, RPG-centric play style that offered customizable equipment and choices that really mattered. However, its characters and their interplay were weak. Saren: hardly appeared throughout the game, appeared at the end for a convenient, plot-explaining chat and then transformed into a glorified, Reaper frog. Matriarch Benezia: barely explained, limited interaction and no real understanding of her motives and decisions, aside from a brief exchange in which you discover she has been mind-controlled *sigh*. Garrus: a policeman with authority issues and a stock bad-ass outlook. Ashley: cocky soldier girl with cliched religious background and domestic problems, as well as atypical racist attitude. Kaidan: a vacuous and empty void. Tali: an innocent little girl, fawning over Shepard and offering little aside from a convenient plot device to accelerate the story, before predictably transitioning into heroic associate.

      Compare those bland templates with those from ME2. Thane: highly spiritual member of a previously undisclosed race offering insight into a distinct, unique people through a construct both militaristic and yet culturally developed. Jack: an immensely complex and detailed individual with a textured past, real emotional issues and a steady transition from her background into a new sphere of life. Kasumi: a predatory thief that may have fallen victim to generic archetypes if not for her obsession with her lost love and cipher of forbidden memories. Legion: basically the only and most detailed insight we EVER get into the existence of the Geth, causing them to transition from Saturday morning television baddies into more sympathetic constructs. Mordin: hyper-active he may be, but he is also one of the most likeable characters in the series, with a past that is NOT simply technological and geeky, but conflicted emotionally beneath his brusque exterior as to the nature of the genophage. The list goes on.

      To the writer: your technical and design criticisms of ME2 are accurate. The ammo system does suck, the planet scanning is ineffably boring, the level designs are predictable and overly contrived. Everything does fall into a repetitive strain, becoming vacuous and languid as generic enemies are tossed at you in incoherent waves. But you cannot criticize the characters, for they are amongst the best in video game history. You cannot criticize the mythos or the lore, for it is amongst the most original (in places- the Reapers are a little too much in the way of deus ex machina in my opinion) in recent sci-fi works. Granted, it is not as polished or as enjoyable as the first game, which you are quite right in saying, but at least it stands proudly on its feet and delivers to us what the Mass Effect franchise promised: a splendid array of characters in a splendid array of settings. For that, its genre-hopping can be forgiven.

      Besides, ME2 had Lair of the Shadow Broker. Your argument is suddenly completely invalid.

      • Everything you said I can completely agree with. If there was anything that really bugged me about Mass Effect 2 and 3, it would be how small everything felt, namely the Presidium and other locations. The Citadel is supposed to be ginormous, but it only really feels properly large in Mass Effect 1. I forgave all of this, however, because the story and characters held my attention.

  9. Jimmy Jungas

    Yeah so you are just wrong ok. Firstly the codex is written by and for the Alliance military the only experience the alliance had with the geth in ME 1 was as enemies and I don’t know how you intend for Shepard to negotiate with the Geth when in fact he has no knowledge that most geth are peaceful. So you are saying ME 1 gave characters more personality? Please aside from the Liara romance I felt like the others two were just tacked on, I feel like both human squadmates lacked personality, as did Garrus until you start to see your influence on him after Dr Saleon. Anyway I believe the loyalty missions were fantastically done and let me sympathise with every character in some way, the conversations also were far more in depth and revealed a lot about each character. The point of the ‘kill offs’ is for you to see that YOUR decisions affect who lives and dies, the emotion is amplified by the fact you have grown to care for and
    understand every member of the squad, I am sorry you are too emptionally deprived to experience the same feeling. Lack of customise ammo hello ammo powers! Also you are right I miss scrolling through those annoying menus and selecting the ammo upgrade I want, fantastic mechanic. I will concede yes scanning is boring, however it is necessary to show you need to put in time to optimise your character and squad like any RPG, they all have tedious elements. And to your statement the game is narrow i am so sure everyone missed those cut and paste side missions from the first game in the same boring warehouse. Nevertheless I yes the environments are smaller but feel more refined and detailed. Finally I would like to see you with the budget and technology the developers of ME 2
    had and let’s see you make a better game.

  10. Someone who appreciates

    The only thing I read when I went through this whole four part dialogue (as a whole) is “I am a cynical asshole.” I willing to bet money you complain about the air you breath as well. Each character had a much deeper meaning in the second game then in the first. I guess the one thing about this last blog that you posted that stood the most out to me that you disliked (like every other thing) was the geth reference. That plot twist was done very well because up to that point no being had ever talked to the geth. It only makes sense that the codex pages would mark down the immediate observations of what they saw of the geth. In having the geth able to communicate with Shepard the viewer is able to gain a deeper understanding of the race beyond the codex. Its probably one of the biggest pulls of the games because it feels like you were just let in on a big secret. The rachni in the first game did this exact same twist and yet for some reason that wasn’t compiled in your four blog sh*tlist.