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