Mass Effect 2: The Future of RPGs? Oh really?
There has been a lot of hype around the release of Mass Effect 2 some weeks back and some people already start claiming that this game is going to be the Future of RPGs. Rampant Coyote took a stance and so did The Brainy Gamer. Being an old hand RPGer and having played Mass Effect 1 to the end and started playing part 2 I feel I need to have my say to the hype around that game.
First of all Bioware made the mistake to market this game as an RPG while it actually isn’t really one. It’s a mix of an Action Adventure/Third-Person Shooter with RPG elements in it. But the RPG part of the game is really the smallest of it’s sum. Maybe we can agree to call it an Action RPG even though I think this title still doesn’t really fit. Mass Effect 1 & 2 are much more of a 3rd person shooter and action adventure than a RPG because Bioware removed or reduced almost any feature that defines a Role-playing Game.
The game looks extremely high class but what is left after you strip the shiny graphics and the professional voice acting from the game? After that we still have the main plot and a couple of side quests which are more or less so-so. Personally the main story couldn’t really convince yet. The idea with the Reapers etc. feels too far fetched. I feel like I’m remembered to Weapon from Final Fantasy VII. Then there’s a couple of side quests, some are alright but others are utterly boring.
What else is left? Of course, the combat! Here you got something that is actually fun for a while if you’re into shooters but again this has nothing to do with a RPG. And you will notice that combat turns out to be always in the same scheme: run through a rather linear-built level (something that seems to be the staple of Bioware games), take cover behind obstacles, command your two team mates to engage and just keep firing at the enemies.
There’s no inventory and the few loot that can be picked up transferred at places or received from locked wall safes feels extremely bland because it doesn’t feel as if there is anything tangible. It’s just a number that adds up to your resources or credits. The tacked-on Research that is used to upgrade your equipment feels very similar: You walk into the lab on your ship, open the research terminal and click in the menu on what you like to research next *Yawn*.
And here we are at the next weak point of the game … the User Interface which is the exact opposite of the character and environment visuals. It has the charm of an interactive information panel in your local city hall! Yes, the menus! Every time I have to read a mail on the personal terminal I just dismiss it without reading it because the presentation done around it on the GUI is so extremely dull.
There’s not much of any RPG-like stats either. This is clearly not a game targeted at the hardcore RPG crowd! There’s a handful of what you could call skills and your characters level up but again these features feel very poor in comparison to any RPG as we know it. And personally I love stats! Give me more of them anytime. I’m not asking for a micro-management torture here but instead of improving on features that make an RPG interesting because of their complexity, Mass Effect just cuts them out.
The music of the game is another disappointment. I might be among the minority here but for me the sound is actually more important in a game than nice graphics. Sound can do a lot! Many developers underestimate this and skimp on the audio side. This is how Mass Effect feels when listening to it’s music. There are a couple of tracks that are an exception (while on the Collector ship for instance) but most of the synth music sounds extremely bland and doesn’t support the atmosphere for me.
What else is there to mention? The Biotics - you could call it the Magic equivalent in the Mass Effect universe – is another such thing that doesn’t really cut it for me. It just feels weak if you can float some enemies into the air with it. I guess it could be called The Force Lite. I never really bothered about Biotics much because the whole concept about them feels cheap to me. I know they can be powerful but they are not presented very well.
The game has tons of dialog but luckily isn’t awash with redundant blather like for example Dragon Age so listening to dialogs is actually enjoyable most of the time. However this is just a matter of good voice acting and facial animation to make the characters more believable. The game has very few profanity, a fact that I welcome but they used the word Bitch a little too often. While rather harmless, It just gets annoying if such words are repeated too often. Kind of makes you think a fifteen year old wrote some of the lines.
[ad#gog_arcanum_box]Another problem is that the game feels actually too realistic for me. How could this be? Am I getting to old or what? All the years we are striving to reach pure realism in our games and then suddenly I come along and tell you that this is bad. I think it’s because Mass Effect with it’s perfectly looking and animated boobs characters rips too much of my own imagination away. It feels very much like a movie with added interactivity. This is why I often prefer an oldschool game with abstract graphics over any triple-A game. It’s all about enjoying a game while still realizing that you’re sitting in your cozy living room and sipping coffee without being dragged too much into the world behind the screen.
With all that said, I will probably finish part 2 of the Mass Effect series even though my interest in it has already declined a lot. I hope the ending of ME2 will turn out to be better than the one of the first part.