Reboarding the Normandy: Playing through ‘Mass Effect’ again (Part 2 of 3)
Note: This is part two of a three part feature. To read part one click here. This feature contains numerous spoilers to all three games in the Mass Effect trilogy.
Welcome back to my play journal (of sorts) for the Mass Effect trilogy. When we last left our hero, Saren had been defeated, the Rachni queen was brutally murdered in a fit of glitch-induced rage, and Shepard was testing out the theory of “once you go blue, you’re stuck like glue.” But with Mass Effect 2 on the horizon, things were going to get serious, and this time I wasn’t planning on leaving any of my team behind in the suicide mission.
Mass Effect 2 (2010)
When I stepped back into the role of Commander Shepard and relived the astoundingly exciting start of Mass Effect 2, I was instantly reminded why it stands head and shoulders above its predecessor. The opening sequence, where the Collector’s ship is ripping the Normandy to shreds, is heartbreaking, pulse-pounding, and virtually perfect. The scene does everything that an opening sequence should: introduce a new threat, give credibility to that threat, keep the audience engaged, and establish motivation for the player to strike back because he/she wants to, not solely because it’s the next thing the game tells him/her to do.
The combat, as nearly everyone recognizes, was vastly improved over the first game. Also, BioWare removed any indication that the Mako ever existed, other than a brief glimpse of it lying in ruin in the “Normandy Crash Site” free DLC from the Cerberus Network. The fan complaints that were addressed also included more weight being put on player decisions, and a ton more decisions that carried over into Mass Effect 3 than were carried from the Mass Effect into 2.
Obviously, when on the discussion of player choices carrying much more weight, it’s hard to not immediately bring up the final segment: the suicide mission. Every decision made before and during the mission will result in something either happening or not happening. Most of the time it’s not just an extra cutscene; nearly every decision made prior to and during the suicide mission will delicately balance life and death for one or more of your squadmates.
This was the third time I’ve played through the suicide mission, and I was determined to finally have my entire team survive so I could not only get the achievement, but also see the role they play in Mass Effect 3. My first time through the Omega-4 Relay, things went rather well aside from the fact that my entire crew was killed before I could get to them. Well, that is, until the camera panned out to show the corpses of Miranda and Grunt. My second time through, I was determined to do better, but, in the process, everything went straight to hell. Jack and Garrus were killed on the way in, and things really started to go downhill once Tali took a rocket to her stupid head. Samara was also killed, over the course of the mission, as was Mordin. As body count climbed higher, I realized that I would not be importing this version of Shepard into Mass Effect 3.
This time through, however, I wanted to make sure I did everything in my power to increase my team’s chances. Since the two times that I was left to my own devices I failed miserably, I actually researched the best way to keep everybody alive this time around. I knew that loyal squadmates generally helped make surviving squadmates, but in actuality, it goes far beyond that. How enhanced the ship is with upgrades plays a huge part, but what really stays true to the franchise’s overall mission is in how decisions impact squadmate survival. If you choose the wrong team member to lead a team or perform a task, chances are, that character will die. It’s incredibly intricate, and BioWare deserves serious praise for it. For the record, I did get my entire team to survive the mission, and successfully exported them all to Mass Effect 3.
This playthough gave me a new perspective of the squadmate loyalty system, which was abandoned by BioWare with Mass Effect 3. I always viewed these missions as slightly annoying, yet necessary ways for BioWare to not only extend the length of Mass Effect 2, but also to help determine who survived the suicide mission. My third playthrough of the game finally made me look at it with a new set of eyes, however. The missions are designed to give a glimpse into the background of each character, causing the player to really get to know the squadmate in question. This humanization (not sure if that’s the right word, since more than half of the squadmates are aliens) of your squadmates makes the suicide mission feel that much more dire. It’s the real reason I cared that Miranda was killed in my first playthrough, or that Thane survived in my second playthrough. The character development in these loyalty missions is truly worth the time it takes to play them.
Since my Shepard was going full-on Renegade, I was worried that he would have a little trouble with the ladies. The biggest hurdle I saw came from Shepard’s constant insistence on spewing David Caruso-esque lines while performing Renegade actions. My first two attempts as a Paragon saw my Shepard giving off the “forever alone” vibe, as nobody bit on any of the lines I was throwing out (save for that shame-filled time with Jack). This time, however, I set my sights on Miranda and her tendency to display her ass right in front of the camera. Sure, Liara might get jealous, but I gave her a fair shot in the outstanding “Lair of the Shadow Broker” DLC and she turned me down, meaning I was technically a free agent (note to self: reopen negotiation lines with Liara in Mass Effect 3). Anyway, long story short, Miranda jumped me as I was walking into the elevator and… well… achievement unlocked [puts on sunglasses].
One thing I noticed from this third playthrough was that the game was beginning to show its age. Sure, the graphics still hold up, and the gameplay is still as enjoyable as ever, but the polish is beginning to reveal a chink or two in its armor. While nothing nearly as crippling as what I experienced in Mass Effect, Mass Effect 2 had its fair share of issues, ranging from my Shepard having difficulties traversing some terrains that he is definitely supposed to be able to, to random texture issues that weren’t as noticeable the first two times I played the game.
Due to my meticulous need to have all of my characters survive, my third foray with Mass Effect 2 actually proved to be my longest playthrough in terms of hours spent in-game. At the end of the day, however, it was worth it. I experienced all of the loyalty missions again, and just as my replay of Mass Effect gave me a better appreciation for the events that unfold in its sequel, this replay of Mass Effect 2 gave me a stronger connection to Mass Effect 3 and the importance of everything going on in its predecessors. But now it’s time for me to move on to my pick for Game of the Year 2012 (so far), Mass Effect 3.
Check out part three of this three part series, where I examine the now-infamous final entry of BioWare’s epic saga.