It’s impossible to deny the success of Mass Effect 2. Both critically and commercially the game shattered expectations everywhere. A sure fire contender for game of the year, you might be wondering why I would want to criticize such a beloved game. Well, I’m not going to try and convince anyone that Mass Effect 2 is anything short of a masterpiece, but I do have a few gripes. In reality these are more likely gripes with the role playing genre in general, but I am going to use Mass Effect 2 as a launching pad.
For a role playing game, Mass Effect 2 doesn’t exactly let the player represent his personal convictions or opinions. Your own voice is merely a suggestion whispered into the ear of the Mass Effect 2 story as it trudges boldly along in its predestined path. Occasionally the game offers you choices, but does it let your own personality reflect and shape a characters response? More likely you are offered something along the lines of “Throw the puppy in the furnace” or “Turn off furnace”. Two options that sit as far away from each other on a morality scale as possible. Their might be a middle choice like “Turn off furnace. Also kick puppy”, but the game doesn’t really rewarding you for fence sitting. Let me explain before you raise your pitchfork and use it to puncture my car tires.
Spelling it out.
One of the big things that bothers me about role playing featured in Mass Effect 2 is the way the game lets you know the moral standings of your responses. I understand it’s a video game and can only fit so many options for dialog choices, but do they really have to be organized? One of the best features of Heavy Rain is the way you actually get to decide what your character is going to say next, without the game telegraphing the reactions. Mass Effect literally colors your big decisions into evil or good options. You don’t get the opportunity to weigh options and decide for yourself; the game tells you what is good and what is evil. The second you see the organization and color of those choices, your personal opinion has been totally compromised.
Maybe you had an opinion of what was right and wrong. It no longer matters; you still have to choose between sinner and saint. What if you happen to disagree with the options? Where’s the fun in having every choice’s results revealed to you in advance? Taking away the colors and organization would force the player to make a personal decision and would exponentially increase the feeling of weight of your choice following a decision. If all three options were presented on a completely even keel, then the decision would truly be in the players’ hands and not biased by any external factors, making it their own. I’d love to see the person who flew threw Mass Effect 2 do it over again fresh, without the options sorted out for him or her. I’ll bet their game gets played a lot differently. This time it would be more reflective of their own personality.
Pick a side!
Maybe you think you did really make the game your own. You tried your best to ignore the games pokes and prods and approached every situation from a uncompromisable standpoint. You weren’t rewarded; in fact you were punished. Failure to comply with either good or evil standings in Mass Effect 2 leaves you with even fewer options. Basing decisions on your own morals will leave you stuck in the middle. All of sudden you are literally denied access to dialog choices, simply because you aren’t “Paragon or Renegade” enough to make that call. Maybe it’s your fault for being a fence sitter and basing actions on your own feelings, but it sure does feel cheap and is certainly unsatisfying. The game teases you with grayed out sentences. If only you had sucked it up and accepted what the game deemed honorable or detestable earlier. Then you could really make your own choice.
Hey, what’s your rush?
Apparently the entire galaxy will wait for you to mull over the options and come up with a response. That’s the way it works in real life, no? You could have the fate of millions of people resting on your own heavily armored shoulders, but still not feel in any kind of rush. Put the controller down, go make a sandwich; we’ll wait here and not move. The game occasionally presents situations as time sensitive when in reality the clock only turns when you say so. Einstein would not be amused.
One of the games most potent repercussions occurs (SPOILER ALERT) if you choose to wait and continue to build up your team instead of charging in after your captured crew. I chose to wait and paid a heavy price. Unbeknown to me, the crew was being slowly executed as I fluttered around the galaxy map launching my probes. Honestly, I was a little confused and a tad frustrated. I loved that my ignorant time wasting had resulted in real unfortunate consequences, but since when did time start moving along without my say so? I could sit at a dialog screen for 300 hours before deciding, but all of a sudden all that free time was snatched out from under me. I’m not complaining; in fact it was one of my favorite parts of the game. Yes, the world kept turning in this one instance, why couldn’t it continue to do so earlier in the game? Not to continually compare this game to Heavy Rain, but at least that game was consistent in the passing of time. Like in real life, you only have a certain amount of time to make up your mind. It builds pressure and really make my reaction one of gut instinct, a beautiful feature in a game that wants you to make up your own mind.
In the end
I understand that I am only picking on one game when I can’t really think of an example of one single game that does it all right. Many of my humble criticisms apply to many more games then just Mass Effect 2. I highlight the faults I feel show prevalently in Mass Effect 2 only because it’s the most current example standing out in my mind. Again, Mass Effect 2 is a great game, and any gamer worth his salt should take the time to play through and enjoy it. While I’ll be the first to admit my idealistic fantasy of a role playing game that completely shapes its narrative around ones personality is a pipe dream, their are still certain steps I feel could be attempted in pursuit achieving said pipe dream. Hopefully I laid some of those ideas out in a relatively comprehensible fashion.