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Mass Effect 2: The Future of RPGs? Oh really?

February 12th, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

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.

The Illusive Man (aka Cigarette Smoking Man) is and stays my favorite character in the 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.

Bitch passed out on me!

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.

Environments look superior ... even on my three year old graphics card!

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.

These are some pretty nice ars... err ... arguments.

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.

You can now suck planets dry of their resources. But don't bother too much .. it gets old very quickly.

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.

Jack and Miranda go really well together!

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.

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  1. February 13th, 2010 at 03:30 | #1

    I also played this for about 100 hrs now..

    When I first was reading the title, I was scared. What RPG??? And this the future?? Oh no…

    But thn you got it right, adventure+FPS, nothing more!! Just because FEW char-settings and customizable colors are used it’s NOT worth to call a game an RPG.

    Then every Lucasarts adventure would be also an RPG just for playing another character or every FPS.

    There must be QA with a number of “must-have” features to give the game an RPG deserving logo.

    The path you CAN go is just blowing smoke. It’s for short a movie with dialog options, and some chapters shuffled.

    Very good presentation though… but as RPG it’s a bluff package.

  2. picardo
    February 13th, 2010 at 08:13 | #2

    Let me say this about the game. I played and finished it twice now and I’m pretty tired of it. It was great fun, and it was a real improvement on the first episode, but the ultimate payoff isn’t that great. It’s just the midpoint in a trilogy, and it only builds up the plot for the last episode, kind of like Empire Strikes Back. Much of the plot is left unresolved, and not just about the Reapers, but also Cerberus. Some of the UI is much better, especially the weapons menu, and others are worse — the message console is a mess — you didn’t mention the spammy message titles, often in ALL CAPS; made my blood chill. The dialogue is the really great part, though. I ran across almost all the possibilities and the options kept changing in very surprising ways.

    Just another thing. It looks like you are playing with a female Shepard. Can you try getting it on with Samara? I am really curious if she goes for the girl on girl stuff. Haha.

  3. Adrian
    February 13th, 2010 at 09:13 | #3

    Your review feels as if you are bashing the game just because you can. I don’t think it’s a very professional or even a good approach to do reviewing. You write about every bad thing you don’t like about the game and then end with, “I’ll probably finish it”. Why would you keep playing if you find it a bad experience? It gives the sense that your reviews are just needlessly nitpicking on things you don’t really believe in.

    Anyway, you might be interested to know that Bioware did a rare thing and listen to fan suggestions based on the first game. They found users dislike the inventory/stats system because they found it to be too needlessly complicated and tedious, so Bioware got rid of it. ME1 tried to force lots of traditional RPG aspect into it, and the gamers felt the gameplay suffered for it (this is from the bioware development blog). End of the day, you can still have an action/adventure in which the story changes based on the ‘role’ you choose to play as. Try playing on insanity and see if you can survive the first couple of mission without choosing the right stats for your team and the right strategy when it comes to combat. This is the future of RPG, at least, the future of real time RPG and not turn based RPG.

  4. February 13th, 2010 at 12:28 | #4

    Yeah I’ve read that ME2 only serves as a way to transport the story toward part 3. But then, Empire Strikes Back was my favorite part in Star Wars. ;)

    Samara? That’s the Justicar right? Not sure if I will get the chance to try that and I actually modded my save game to get it on with Tali.

  5. February 13th, 2010 at 12:42 | #5

    Yes I’m highlighting almost only negative sides because I feel that the game gets too much positive hype for what it really is (I already felt the same about ME1 but didn’t care to write about it). As I wrote, strip away the nice graphics and the voice acting and see what’s left. The only really innovative part left is how the story evolves and changes happen because of your (dialog) choices. Besides, many others point out only the positive sides of the game so why shouldn’t somebody do the opposite for a change?!
    I think Bioware should have went from the beginning without all these tacked-on RPG features. Then everyone would be happy. The RPG nerds wouldn’t complain and the FPS (or TPS) crowd would be happy either way.

  6. picardo
    February 13th, 2010 at 13:16 | #6


    When you say the future of RPG is ME2, I don’t know if I agree. Doesn’t World of Warcraft already offer a real-time role playing experience? The future of RPG looks to me like a spectrum, rather than a march forward. I think some games like ME get better by adding some RPG aspects without going the full on RPG route (console games aren’t suited to full on RPG treatment, I think, because you need a lot of keys to customize your set), and so I can see why they scaled back the features a bit from ME1.

    A few examples. I dig how they tied the paragon/renegade to dialog options very organically. But I didn’t think they should have made medi-gels be used only to revive dead crew members rather than healing yourself. As a result, I almost never used medi-gels I picked up; that was something I thought should have been left alone because it makes things too easy.


    Yeah, Empire Strikes Back was pretty good, except for the ending. Similarly, ME2 has a big plot twist, which I won’t spoil for you, that comes right before the end, sort of a “Come Join Me” moment. You can guess, though, in the next episode we’ll be fighting Cerberus and the Illusive Man. I can totally see having to re-play all 3 episodes to unlock some aspects of the game’s conclusion in the game’s final episode.

  7. Pete
    April 13th, 2010 at 06:15 | #7

    Loot does not make an RPG. Customizable stats do not make an RPG. That’s packaging, not product. Remember that RPG stands for Role-Playing Game, that is, playing the role of a character and making decisions based on their personality and morality, decisions that *matter* in the game itself. BioWare has a knack for giving you a story that, while linear in many respects (a limitation in most video game RPGs), nevertheless hinges on decisions that have repercussions in the game world.

    Having imported my character from ME1, I was often surprised and delighted to see my choices coming back to me in ways large and small – a character whose life I saved in the first game stops by to say thanks, while another decision blocks me from becoming a Spectre again due to lingering distrust and ill will. And that’s not even mentioning the many ways that decisions in ME2 come back at you, in terms of party loyalty, revealing cutscenes that differ by choices made, missions that are or aren’t available, etc. Not to mention I know some of my choices are going to come back to bite me – HARD – in ME3.

    In terms of linear storytelling, technology is still at the point where you have to make a choice: open world but relatively little personalization in pre-written content, or more linear but more tailored experience. If I set up a game so that there are potentially thousands of different ways you could make an important decision – or avoid it altogether! – then it’s functionally impossible to make cutscenes and write dialogue for all those possibilities. Alternately, you can funnel the players in certain directions to ensure that there are only so many ways to make a certain plot point move forward, then write a few variant cutscenes to reflect those possiblities. The result is a story where you’re hemmed in at points, but you get the benefits of more plot-specific dialogue and storytelling.

    There’s no right or wrong way to do it, and I’m not saying BioWare has perfected the RPG, if you could even figure out a way to judge that sort of thing. What I’m saying is that I think you’re mistaking what people have come to *expect* from a lot of RPGs, like stat shuffling and gear customization, with what they are actually *about* by definition. In the strict sense of the term, ME2 is definitely an RPG, because you get to express Shep’s personality and make choices that have far-reaching, detailed, signficant consequences to your character and all the others in the game universe. If that’s not an RPG, then what is?

  8. Happy
    June 16th, 2010 at 03:05 | #8

    Pete gets it. Everyone else apparently has no clue. Sad that a person doing reviews doesn’t even know the very basics of the genre of the game they’re supposed to be reviewing… sort of makes their take on the subject matter entirely irrelevant.

  9. Imperial
    November 28th, 2010 at 23:53 | #9

    i don’t know. i come from an old school rpg background and i gotta say. i think the review is correct. if you strip away all the glitz and glamour of the game. there isn’t really much rpg left. and yes they did strip away all the interesting elements instead of improving them. like the mako exploration and that is just poor. i really enjoyed the game and i am playing it through a third time now. but cut and dry it is just ghost recon with a little more interactivity and story. rpgs nowadays have really been reduced to fast food gaming. just lots of graphics so they sell better. this may sound weird but something like way of the samurai 3 is more rpg to me than for example that sterile dragon age. i may be biased. but it was just stupid and ludicrous. be it story or interaction. it just dind’t feel complete or like i had a say in anything. it could have been so much more. sad. and before you try to troll me sit down and play arcanum fallout 2 and then talk to me about rpgs. nuff said.

  10. Imperial
    November 28th, 2010 at 23:57 | #10

    if what you say is all that makes an rpg then every game is an rpg.

  11. UK_John
    November 30th, 2010 at 00:09 | #11

    I think this review is absolutely correct in every word! The fact is we don’t get PC games anymore from the major U.S. publishers anymore, we get ‘multiformat’ titles.

    I say U.S., because look at what we get from U.S. companies regarding cRPG’s:

    Jade Empire, Mass Effect, Alpha Protocol, Dragon Age, Borderlands and Fallout 3. Only Fallout 3 was a true cRPG with avatar stats and perks, etc and a world that changes based on those stats. The other titles, are at best, action-adventures. For a start, none of them have sandbox worlds to explore and discover things. Surely one of the core features of cRPG’s

    Europe, on the other hand, seems to be filling in the gap in PC gaming left by the big U.S. publishers. So from there we get proper PC cRPG’s like The Witcher, Two Worlds, the Divinity series, the Sacred series, Space Rangers, Drakensang and Gothic; and real thinking man’s shooters like STALKER and Metro 2033.

    What many don’t realise, is when you just look at PC sales of titles like Dragon Age and Mass Effect, you see that PC only titles like The Witcher and STALKER sell just as many units! It’s only by thinking of combine console/PC sales that we think games like Dragon Age must sell many more PC units than The Witcher, when it didn’t!

    Next year the closest we have to a cRPG from a major U.S. publisher is the sole Dragon Age 2, but from Europe we are getting three ‘real’ cRPG’s Two Worlds II, The Witcher 2 and Risen 2, with the possibility of a couple more!

    The question I ask is whether the predominantly U.S. gaming media is going to give the European games a fair shake. Generally a Dragon Age will get 9+ everywhere, and yet The Witcher, a cRPG just as good, gets in the 8’s. No European cRPG has ever scored a 9 or higher! I think this is because European titles are only picked up for U.S. distribution by small companies who cannot afford huge marketing. This means the gaming media sees less advertising and therefore scores down compared to the companies with lots of advertising.

    European publishers can bring quality PC games to market for $10 million or less. U.S. publishers spend $30 million plus. The latter spending just cannot continue, so eventually I believe the Europeans will win out.

  12. Imperial
    November 30th, 2010 at 03:44 | #12

    ok. first of all i want to apologize for being so rash beforehand. and i wanna explain some of the things i said because i get a bit angry sometimes because i really feel cheated by the publishers and it angers me the way people defend these capitalist actions.
    ok now this is just an opinion but i do feel obligated to break it down. so please just humor me.
    i think there are a lot of factors that make an rpg.
    1. yes actively playing a role in a story is a central part. and the actions that i choose should reflect on the further game. but that cannot just be the only thing that counts. because when you play a shooter, for example, gradius 3 whether or not you shoot down an enemy fighter reflects either by it killing you or you getting a powerup or score points which at a certain amount susequently earn you an extra life which you, depending on your skill gets you to the next stage or beyond. so we are still at shootemup level here.
    2. atmosphere: granted graphics are important but compared to the bulk of the game are just a small part. just look at how crappy arcanum looked when it came out, considering the technical standard of the time. and measure that up to the bulk of the game and all it has to offer… now please compare that to a product like dragon age.
    3. sound. no explanation. i think we can all agree on how important that aspect is to any genre of game.
    4. statistics and customization: given these factors are dependent on the set of rules given but they still are a major part of say every pen and paper game which is the forefather of all pc and console rpgs. so a certain amount of statistics and customization are one of the things that set an rpg apart fron any given shooter. statistics aren’t all that makes an rpg to what it is but a little statistic and customization also don’t suddenly turn a shooter into an rpg all of the sudden.
    5. open worldedness free roaming and freedom of choice: now that also depends on the set of rules. but every good dungeon master will allow you a certain amount of this. and not just force you to take a set path but let you choose between several options. unless you are a first-timer in order to help you find your way.
    6. sidequests as opposed to complete scripting. for example when you play a game like fallout or morrowind or all the other monsters that set the standard years ago: i see every little sidequest in the light of sitting together with my friends and playing a short episode that may or may not diverge from the main plot, given there is one. so the main plot doesn’t have to be gigantic and extremely long but it really ups the play value and gives you a chance to immerse yourself into the world more if you have numerous sidequests. plus it is definitely in the spirit of the rpg genre.
    now i never saw rpgs as being the elite but using your brains as opposed to just button-mashing is a main aspect that set them apart from many other types of games.
    i am so rigorous in my opinion when someone says well you can’t compare an action rpg or a jrpg to any “traditional” type. yes i can. because if you call your product an rpg then you are going to have to stand up to that eventual comparison to all the big boys that set the standard.that is why a game like dragon age angers me when i look at the scores it got in reviews compared to a game like drakensang which was also very limited in many ways but it gave me the feeling like i was playing a computerized version of the dark eye. which was intended. i am not going to get started on bashing games now. but i am very disappointed at what we are being fed because the industry sees the majority of us gamers as gullible idiots who will buy anything. they are reducing what would be great games down to a cheap inconsistent storylines and a skeleton of a game with mondo graphics and effects in order to charge us double the price by forcing dlcs down our throats just so we can have a complete game. and people defend these actions with arguements like some of those above. i as a hardcore rpg gamer think dragon age sucks even compared to the old neverwinter nights and even to kotor (shame on you guys at bioware) but i gave it a chance and one of my best friends loved it being an rpg newbie. so it is a cool game for some people who don’t want to be pummeled by statistics. but just because you you have 100 codex pages and cool grapics, it doesn’t make a good rpg. and you can’t force that standard on everyone just to sell more copies. it just doesn’t live up to a game like risen or the old gothic or even a shooter like deus ex in the light of the aforementioned aspects. so enough now. much respect to the reviewer. bless

  13. UK_John
    November 30th, 2010 at 04:15 | #13

    All this debate about whether an RPG is an Action-RPG, a hack’n’slash, a Diablo clone, and Action-Adventure or just a shooter is a replication of the debate we saw about adventure games ten years ago.

    Pure adventure gamers complained bitterly that Tomb Raider was called an ‘Action-Adventure’, saying it was if anything a platform-shooter, as it had no adventuring in it. This confusion continued until we no longer had adventure games in the mainstream and it was left to indie companies to struggle on with the format.

    In effect then, this debating of what makes a cRPG is the same thing as far as I am concerned, and points toward the cRPG genre disappearing just like the Adventure genre disappeared. First comes the dilution of the genre, then the disputes (like this one, then the core genre disappears.

  14. Imperial
    November 30th, 2010 at 04:29 | #14

    @UK_John sad truth. but correct.

  15. UK_John
    November 30th, 2010 at 04:41 | #15


    If I used my heart I could say incorrect positive things. If I use my head I have to say correct negative things. I wish more gamers and media used their heads and not their hearts.

  16. Imperial
    November 30th, 2010 at 04:54 | #16

    @UK_John right on and maybe we can’t stop this development seeing as how overwhelming the odds are but i as a conscious person refuse to see inaction due to implied futility as an option. and i am so tired of just standing by so i had to voice my opinion. just this once. big up and respect from germany.

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