23 October 2013

'Mass Effect 2' Part IV

Duh-na-na-na-na-na, Duh-na-na-na-na-na, Duh-na-na-duh-na-na-duh-na-na-duh-na-na-duh-na-na-duh-na-na-duh-na-na-na...


You have obtained Part 4 of the Mass Effect 2 review! To read this post, click the "see more" link if viewing on the main page. Otherwise, scroll down. Remember to keep your eyes on the screen. But don't forget to take breaks, or else your eyes will melt and you will suffer killer headaches! - Love, Nintendo.

... wait.

In all seriousness I actually like doing these posts. I put so much time ranting about the characters here that I realized how much I retained from the superior being(s) know how many times I played this game. The Mass Effect Wiki is mainly a reference to make sure I don't miss a few details. And if I even so much as make a minuscule error, I might gain a Douchey McNitpick! ... I don't want that. At all. PLEASE.


I kissed the characters I love, hugged the misfits, sent Thane a lawsuit for being one of the worst fathers in video games, and mocked the mediocrity of Legion.

While I fight off the inevitable horde of angry fans worldwide, let's finish this!

Other Characters

Liara T'Soni returns!

I already said that she's a creator's pet, with her presence constantly being shoved in our faces and simply being the only main character that cannot die under any circumstances. It's still true. Her presence in Mass Effect 2 is so bare bones that the base game has her sitting around on Illium as an information broker. Well gosh, that's not foreshadowing at all.

She offers you three optional side missions that do nothing but garner a handful of experience and morality points. They're nothing to write home about, unless you like the hacking mini game. I never minded them. About 99% of all the files and hacking stations in missions and hub worlds cannot escape Shepard's greedy omnitool so long they give me money and upgrades.

But Liara's presence in the base game baffles me. I can understand her in the "Lair of the Shadow Broker" DLC; it gives her some time to bond with Shepard once again like Garrus and Tali did (Wrex too... albeit VERY briefly.) But why put her in the base game with nothing to offer? Maybe it's just a teaser of sorts. Maybe I'm just nitpicking.

Everyone has said it once, and I'll say it too: "Lair of the Shadow Broker" is the best DLC chapter in this game. The first time I played it, I thought it was originally a part of the game. It's a two-hour long recruitment and loyalty mission for Liara, only she doesn't quite rejoin the Normandy crew yet. Still, she has a character arc. What once was a naive, reclusive archeologist turns into a desperate young woman wanting to save her friends and finally becomes the galaxy's most reliable holder and distributer of information. The last part was practically thrown at her as consequence for undergoing the adventure of taking on the Shadow Broker, but it always moves me how she decides to take the unknown head-on.

Best of all, Liara and Shepard end on good terms once more. The ending is very moving, regardless if you romance her or not.

Liara still comes out alright in the end, I guess. I do give her the credit of having more character in this DLC than any other part of the trilogy. It's disappointing that this was the only time I ever cared about her (to the point of getting teary-eyed!) ME1's writing was so flimsy that the relationship between her and Benezia fell tragically short. And ME3 tries to keep her relevant, but Bioware made some terrible hiccups there too. All of this while painting her as the seemingly most important character in the trilogy. Bah.

Onto someone else.

Poor Wrex. He barely shows up in this game. But like most krogan, he made a wonderful impression for the short time he was given. This can only happen if he survived through the first game. ... I don't have the soul to let him go. Not even my rigidly bitchy Renegade Shepard, who could only threaten him with a high red score.

Good to see him nonetheless. At least Wrex provides some insight on how he wants to change the krogan for the better, which this debate will come up in Mass Effect 3. If he was dead, another guy, Urdnot Wreav takes his place. Things get... interesting.

Who's next?



I mean Joker... em... Flight Lieutenant Jeff Moreau... *mutters* ...been watching too much Buffy lately... *grumbles*

The awesome background commentary/Normandy pilot/tertiary character returns with a snarky vengeance! And with him joins the Enhanced Defense Intelligence. Even MORE hilarity ensues, though at a much greater frequency.

Thank goodness Bioware made EDI and Joker interact so much. I said little about Joker in the first game because there is little to no reason to acknowledge him. He mades very few comments, and hardly any of them are memorable. When you talk to him, he has an attitude with Shepard, regardless of morality. Had I not played the later two games before ME1, I would have wondered why the hell everyone loved Joker so much.

This game establishes it very well. Joker's presence is more frequent, his comments are sharper and funnier, and with EDI constantly pestering him, he gets a chance to have a tiny bit of character. You feel like he's a member of the crew who sees Shepard as a real bud. Joker is just awesome. And EDI enjoys the sight of humans on our knees.

... That was a joke.

Hmm... Any other guys worth mentioning?

David Anderson pops up for a scene in the beginning of the game. Like in the first game, he has faith in Shepard and his/her warnings of the Reapers inevitable return. His overall presence is still sadly small, but Anderson still comes off as a down-to-earth father figure who has once kicked a ton of ass back in the glory days. Simple, but effective, mainly because of his dialogue and Keith David's voice acting. I can't hate him, even if I tried. Udina on the other hand... still a jerk.

Hmm... Aria T'Loak.

I never cared for her. She's quite the drama queen, claiming Omega as her throne and its inhabitants under her rule, but she at least has the charisma for me to believe she can kick a krogan's ass. Aria just feels a bit too overstated to me. From the games alone, she does nothing noteworthy, at least not in ME2. She commands attention, and she can gain it, but she still feels shallow. Maybe the comics can provide more into Aria's backstory, rather than have her sit around and act like she owns the place.

Oh. I almost forgot Charlie Sheen's dad!

Fans have a love/hate relationship with the Illusive Man. His presence is unavoidable, impressive, and admirable, but you want to punch him in the face. Like Anderson, he's one of the few sane men who believe the Reapers are coming. So he spends a fortune to bring Shepard back and constantly reminds him/her that Cerberus is the only party willing to cooperate. The Illusive Man serves his role in this game, and he's easily the most memorable, and the best developed villain in the trilogy. ...Yeah, it's not much of a spoiler.

He just spells suspicious the second you meet him. You have no idea what he's up to, but you can at least be happy that he listened to Shepard. How the Illusive Man uses Shepard, however, may affect your overall opinion of him. Personally, I liked him a lot. He angers me, but never to the point that I want him dead. He's an interesting fellow who just happens to be in the hands of writers who ultimately treat him well, but simultaneously lead to his descent in Mass Effect 3. For ME2, he's still awesome.

Maybe it's the eyes. I love 'em.

Voice Acting

Keith David as Anderson was always one of the
best from the get-go.
I think I touched on this briefly with some characters, but I'll mention it again. The voice acting is finally very good most of the time. The hammy, inconsistent performances were FINALLY ironed out - save for one or two occasional moments. Those cases are more seen in a positive light; they've been turned into memes and catch phrases milked endlessly.

There are too many to list, from "Ah, yes 'Reapers'", to Sir Issac Newton, to "calibrations", to Tali's face, to "geth do not infiltrate", to punching the reporter lady, to "You humans are all racist!". Just look them all up. No amount of my writing can articulate the hilarity of some of these gags and inside jokes.


Otherwise nearly everyone sounds good. The new cast is great, and a few voice actors I recognize too well pop up in the background. Like Yuri Lowenthal finally taking off the whiny emo make-up and/or personality ala Ryoji of Persona 3, Sasuke of Naruto, and Matt Miller in Saints Row the Third... only to be a damsel doctor in distress and one of many flailing mercenaries getting burned alive. I even think he was a punching bag/goon or two in The Last of Us as well. (1) ...Well, I digress...

Forgot to mention Renegade Shep gets scars for being
"negative" (unless you get surgery.)
Not much else to say. I can't get enough of Michael Beattie as Mordin, Steve Blum as Grunt, and Robin Sachs as Zaeed (2). Liara and Tali aren't too high-pitchy and everyone else is presentable. Mark Meer is somewhat more stomachable, though he is best as a Renegade Shepard. Something similar can be said about Jennifer Hale as a Paragon Shepard. Even one-note guys are decent, oftentimes because they were voiced by one of the other main actors. Recycle what good you have was the policy I guess.

Still, a great improvement was appreciated.


As I said in my ME1 review, the music for the trilogy is nothing too spectacular. It has a good ambiance, acceptable epic orchestrations, and some memorable melodies.

Unlike its more electronic-inspired elder brother, Mass Effect 2 houses more "organic" music. Strings and piano pieces are more common, though the atmosphere can still be obviously linked to a machine. Typically the squadmate-focused mission music tends to be a hybrid of the two styles while missions with the Collectors tend to be orchestral. Tracks are reused often, though not enough to be too repetitive. However, the Collector-related tracks tend to be a bit overpowering in a good way, but tend to stale more easily than the others.

Wish I could say more. But some tracks worth noting are ones that happen to share names with your squadmates. Some parts play during their missions, sometimes in others, or not at all. Still fun stuff. My favorites are "Tali", "Mordin", "Garrus", and "Thane" for having some parts that lodged into my head and never escaped. "Samara" is exotic and unique with mystical chanting, it fits her character and it rarely plays outside her recruitment mission.

And the theme of this game? "Suicide Mission", which plays on the title screen and in the credits.

Finally, "Vigil" pops up once in a blue moon. There was much rejoicing.

Graphics and Presentation

Mass Effect 2 is a gorgeous game. The above picture of the Illusive Man is one of several images used used when the Smithsonian American Art Museum advertised their The Art of Video Games exhibit. Simply mentioning "Smithsonian" is enough to convince some people that the graphics are top-notch.

Nearly everything in this game is superior to that of the first game. There is far more attention to detail in landscapes, character designs, and weapons. After loading, texture pop-ins are not as frequent as the first game, where it would take nearly five seconds for every detail and surface to appear properly.

Some places are absolute scenery porn, it's delicious. The Normany crash site is one infamous example. A snowy, desolate landscape is burying your old ship, torn to pieces, while Shepard travels alone with no enemies around and pays respect to the crew members who died. In contrast the colorful, dingy Afterlife is the best club ever. Almost every location is strikingly different from each other, leaving you to guess where that extra N7 mission will take place after leaving Illium.

That being said, I'm not someone who is always blown away by fantastic visuals and ignore the glaring issues. At least seventy-five percent of the time, the game is beautiful. The rest of the time, I chuckle.

One of the most obvious issues is Miranda's face.

Sorry, Voltech, for stealing your trick.
Whenever someone mentions face-rendering technology, I roll my eyes. Very little good can possibly come to it. If you want ultra-realism, take a look out a window. Video games - as well as other mediums of art - need constant care, attention, and awareness to make realism work. I'm an amateur artist. Though I can draw what I see in front of me pretty well, it takes a very, very, very long time to get it so it's like "a photograph". There's a bridge I drew back in early high school, and it took over twenty one-hour sessions to complete it. And it still doesn't look that realistic.

So call me a skeptic. Realism takes up too much time, money, and energy for it to be a worthy "trend" in modern gaming. I laugh at most games advertised as "realistic", such as Beyond: Two Souls, The Last of Us, and even Ryse. It's just a plastic hyper-realistic image that is vastly inferior to the real world around me. However, that does not mean such technology should be dropped by the wayside. Though I see no appeal to it, face-rendering and hyperrealism could be fully realized someday. But now it sits on a very bad place on the realism and comfort scale that one fuck up shoots your product down to the Tenth Circle of Hell: The Uncanny Valley.

Why, Twilight Princess? *sob*
I can respect the Mass Effect trilogy due to a lack of obsession with realism graphically. The aliens would only look more outrageous than they ever were if realism was a glorified point. Bioware did enough without risk falling into the uncanny valley and compromising emersion. Except Miranda's face. *groans*

Look, I don't think it's THAT terrible. Donte and Twilight Princess Link made me piss myself more times than Miranda. Even the child version of Anne from Silent Hill Downpour is unforgivably worse for DESTROYING one of the most heartbreaking, moving, and depressing moments I have ever seen in a video game. (3) Miranda smiling occasionally did not commit such a crime against humanity.

But in all seriousness, her face did not bother me as much as it did for others. Just as I defended her from angry Thane supporters, I can't bring myself to toss a stone at the witch. And keep in mind I prefer Kasumi AND Jack over the theoretical fanservice bait!

A lot claim she's potato-faced and ugly; I can only see her face as being a bit... wrong. Something about the lips and cheeks move in a way that screams... wrong. Creepy, overexcited... I have no idea. The emotion is there, but the technical execution is not. But I don't blame Miranda for this. Other characters, like Shepard trip over this rock too. It's not too frequent, thankfully, but no happy emotion from any character that smiles goes on by without making me cringe. That's my main point.

Off my soapbox and back on track.

There are several glitches in the game that still have not been fixed. During Archangel's recruitment mission, you can bring along Zaeed and the conversation with one of the mercenary leaders is extended. Near the end, part of the leader's head disappears. *snort*

The worst aspects of the game appear in the "Project Overlord" DLC. Even with the most recent patches, I still dread several things that may happen as I play. The game has crashed on me several times during a loading screen; I hate entering and leaving Prometheus Station because of this problem. However, having played the DLC in more than seven save files, all adding up to over one hundred hours of gameplay, these load screen crashes do not happen often enough to send an angry, raging letter to BioWare.

Only one thing pissed me off more though. As detailed and polished the graphics are everywhere else in the game... why the hell is the terrain poorly rendered on Aite? For a game this detailed and polished, there is no excuse for this by the end of the seventh generation of consoles! Although it's not common in other parts of the game, it's still a massive eyesore.

Meanwhile, we have other problems!

The loading screens can sometimes be absolutely unbearable. Even with showing some really pretty images and useful hints, waiting to progress further along is sometimes not worth it. For example, trying to go to the third deck of the Normandy creates by far the worst load time I have ever experienced. All I want to do is talk to a squad mate because I need to start a loyalty mission, but I have to sit for nearly twenty-five seconds as the little game that could struggles to load everything on one deck. Just ONE deck. Some days I wanted to play Sonic 06 instead of waiting for the ten-star rated masterpiece from 2010 that was advertised in an exhibit at the Smithsonian to load ONE DECK!

Oh well. At least some of the load screens can be fun to watch. Above contains some of the cooler load screens with "Tali" from the game's soundtrack.

And the more I think about it, the more I realize that nearly every game in the seventh generation takes way too damn long to load. It's inexcusable, especially when some games get far more flack for it than others. If I had to pick between the two, Sonic 06's load times were less obnoxious, if only because I see them far less in a forty minute session of that than a three hour run of ME2

Adding statement #283768 to the "Controversial Things Fangirl Typed" list...


Mass Effect 2 is an excellent game. I cannot stress enough how good this game is. For the most indecisive newcomers, it's the best title to play first.

Let me explain.

Mass Effect 1's plot was so flimsy that playing it is not mandatory. Bioware threw in the Genesis comic to make an abridged version of the events, and it does enough to help you understand what's going on. The gameplay of ME1 was not as focused on action and specific shooting mechanics, but ME2 suffers far fewer technical hiccups and glitches at a far more unusual rate. The sequel also creates more lifelike and believable characters, the dialogue system feels a bit more diverse, the main and side missions are more unique, and the hub worlds are more condensed and lively.

When I played this game first, I understood the world of Mass Effect very well. So well that even I understood the vast majority of the common complaints of ME3 and its ending. Mass Effect 1 gave me context, Mass Effect 2 gave me a galaxy.

That being said, this is only my experience before the trilogy box set came out for the Playstation 3. The rest of you guys have little excuse. I won't condone anyone who picked up ME2 before ME1 or the trilogy box set and starting from the beginning. But if you jump in the middle, get the Genesis interactive comic DLC to get the major choices in twenty minutes as opposed to fifteen hours.

However, this is the high point of the trilogy. I cannot recommend it enough, I really can't.

As a bonus cookie, here's an awesome cover of "Suicide Mission." This guy is awesome.

+ great voice acting
+ recruitment and loyalty missions were unique
+ dialogue polished and different depending on circle option
+ accessible, shooter-inexperienced-friendly combat
+ (mostly) great introduction of new characters
+ the epic and tense Suicide Mission
+ memorable DLC
+ squad conversations numerous and dynamic
+ more well-executed humor
+ the memes, oh, the memes

~ some characters (Jacob, Zaeed, and Legion) are bland or annoying (Thane)
~ excessive and long loading screens
~ planet scanning is somewhat mandatory

- poorly explained and understood morality system (4)
- some textures pixilated
- Horizon. That is all.
- lack of Reapers and raising of long-term stakes
- late arrivals get little time to have a presence (without cheats)

Now you may ask, "So is Mass Effect 2 your favorite in the trilogy?"

Rank: 4.5 out of 5

... not in a million years.



...I just quoted Donte. Need to find a good wall to beat my head against...



(1) - It seems lately that Yuri Lowenthal keeps getting cast into voicing pretty wimpy characters... or maybe bad luck is pouring out from my anime streak lately. *shurgs* At least Simon of Gurren Lagann was played straight as a wimp, only to be subverted, turned inside out, and blown up by the halfway point. As if that show needed any more praise...

... And Ricken in Fire Emblem: Awakening could be one tiny, but crazily overpowered Sage.

(2) - Robin Sachs played Ethan Rayne in Buffy the Vampire Slayer... WHAT?! How did I not notice that until now?! O_O

(3) - I'm mad I could not find that image of young Anne. Posting the entire cutscene is inexcusable due to heavy spoilers. But believe me, the horrible facial movement plus the lack of emotion in the eyes plus the awkward scream... equals the crashing and burning of a beautifully poignant scene. My heart sank and I cried twice, the second time was because of that stupid hiccup.

*sigh* Even with a 2012 game like Silent Hill Downpour, we still have much to learn about "realism" in video games.

(4) - Seeing how fans often ask how the hell to pass morality checks in Mass Effect 2 and how detailed the explanations are to address the concerns... AND that the game does not explain the percentage system... is a convoluted detriment to the final score.


Voltech said...

Well, if you absolutely MUST borrow one of my bits, I can't think of a better one you could have chosen. I'm surprised there haven't been PSAs made to spread Donte awareness.

But yeah, Mass Effect 2? It's pretty freakin' good. Still, it's interesting that you ran into a few glitches on your way; I don't think I had any glaring problems in my playthrough, at least none as hilarious as a sudden decapitation. On the other hand, it seems like I've been running into a lot of glitches in general; I tried out Batman: Arkham Origins the other day, and got stuck on a wall. In the first thirty minutes of the game.

QUALITY! *jazz hands*

Also? It's a surprise to hear that Wrex didn't get to do much in this game. He was my brother's favorite character by a long shot, and he was legitimately angry that Ashley killed (to the point where he didn't even hesitate to leave her behind). Wonder how he would have reacted, knowing that Wrex was effectively benched.

Whatever the case, again, thanks for putting out this little retrospective. Very informative stuff; I'll gladly admit that this franchise is one of the best to come out of this generation, but it's good to have proof as to WHY that's the case. Something to look back on as we move forward...for better or worse.

Guess that just leaves one more game for now. Something tells me that there are going to be some real fireworks...

*looks back at post*


Melanie~Light said...

Well, at least I credited you. My sense of humor is often too dry or flat to be interesting... so I steal... lovingly. And credit those better than me.


Having played this game more times than I can possibly describe, the glitches stand out pretty easily. However, out of the three games, I think Mass Effect 2 has the least annoying, least frequent, and least breaking hiccups. ME1 is easily the worst, it's one of the first (and sometimes ONLY) complaints I heard about it.

That only told me that our standards for overall performance quality has dropped, especially when other elements are stellar. That's why it baffles me when the Mass Effect trilogy gets perfect scores despite having some basic issues that rarely appear in a standard Nintendo game.

Many characters from ME1 don't show up until the third game, but Wrex did get the shortest end of the stick despite being a massive fan favorite. He was easily his best in the first game.

Thank you too, friend. A second opinion's always helpful. Had you not complained about Miranda's face, I would not have gone on a face-rendering tech tangent. lol

As for ME3... oh yes... there will be many fireworks. TWO multipart shows, to be honest.

Be prepared.

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