Out of the last three Bioware games, Mass Effect 2 is my least favourite. Don’t get me wrong: it’s good, maybe even great, but it feels like a step backward from the mind blowing games-you-cant-put-down of Mass Effect 1 and Dragon Age, which is unfortunate given the recent(ish anyway, this post is probably coming out a month after I’ve written it) news that Dragon Age 2 is going to settle its self more into the Mass Effect 2 template.
The problem is that Mass Effect 2 feels heavily segmented and not in the standard three act template we’ve come to expect. The introduction is tiny, the finale is tiny, and the main chunk of the whole thing is built up of small quests with only the most tenuous of links between them. Ultimately it starts to feel like a collection of DLC shoved together to bridge a plot – like when some films do a series of shorts or similar explaining what happened between Film 1 and Film 2: The Sequeling – it felt like that. That’s not to say that the story isn’t better than most of the crap we’re fed, but when you pick up a Bioware game you are almost in it exclusively for that story and forgiving any shortfalls in the pew pew bits, so it needs to go further than simply “better”.
–spoilers from here on–
The premise of the central plot is simplistic – there are bad aliens called The Collectors doing bad things to the Human Race; gather a team and then go to The Collectors homeworld and kill them. And unfortunately it never really diverts from that. There are no political twists or major diversions central to the plot, rather everything is padded with the recruitment of your team which is disappointingly the main aspect of ME2; gathering people and making them loyal – which is interesting but a far cry from the direct feeling of constantly fighting to save the galaxy.
To further sour the narrative, sometimes ME2 takes its galactic adventure twisting into the implausible – the guiltiest section being the recruitment of Jack. Jack was experimented on as a child by Cerberus – the company that you are now working for. She and a load of other unfortunate kids were held captive while Cerberus tried to boost their Biotic powers to ridiculous levels – often making them fight to the death in the process. One day Jack escaped, killing dozens of guards on her way out, and then going to a life of yet more violence. When finally arrested she is sent to live in a pod on a prison ship for years before you come to liberate and recruit her.
Obvious problems: Jack should despise Cerberus beyond measure, they surrounded her with death and pain. Jack is an insane, super powerful woman who barely cares if she lives or dies – she will happily rip through the inside of a Space Ship out of rage. Doesn’t matter though, after the mildest bit of persuasion Jack sees past her involvement with Cerberus and Shepard invites her onto the Normandy. I don’t know about you, but asking an insane super mage to be part of your regimental, elite crew doesn’t seem the best idea when already facing an Alien race that is taking over the Galaxy.
It doesn’t help either that the intricacies of the omni-present Council of ME1 are cast aside with only their merest glance here. Fairly early in ME2 you go back to The Citadel for a meeting with the Council where they treat you with the same disdain as ever and, bewilderingly, refuse to acknowledge the Reapers. I seem to distinctly remember Sovereign being attached to The Citadel – a Reaper that I can’t even comprehend the size of – ripping holes into the giant structure while millions of people watched and died. Then it blew up, hurling a billion bits of space shrapnel into The Citadel with a colossal explosion. But no, there are no Reapers say the council. Come on.