I finished Mass Effect 2 this weekend. I was really looking forward to it after liking the first one well enough, and everyone told me this one was the best of the trilogy. So when I was having trouble getting into it, I got a little disappointed and frustrated.
I had trouble getting into the first one too, so I shouldn’t have been too surprised. Part of it is that I just don’t find the Mass Effect world to be that interesting. It’s very blandly generic sci-fi, like Babylon 5. The alien races aren’t anything special, and of course, humans can always teach them a thing or two about everything.
But I speak from a position of ignorance, because I didn’t play the game right. To really find out the compelling story behind everyone in the game you have to talk to them until you run out of dialog options and also read all the text pieces in your codex. Then you’ll appreciate the world-building that went on behind the scenes. Maybe, but I’d prefer if it went on in front of the scenes. For example, one of the few interesting alien things was the bit about the Krogan genophage. I didn’t find out about this by reading the codex and chitchatting with everyone, I found out about it because there were missions that involved it. So my knowledge of it developed organically while doing other things rather than pausing the game to get an infodump on this element. That’s how I like this sort of thing to happen in a game.
The other way I didn’t play the game right was that I didn’t get all chummy with the NPCs. I guess it’s coded so that you can have romances and stuff with the other characters but boy could I not care less, what with the fate of the galaxy at stake and all. I barely enjoy talking to real life flesh-and-blood people I’ve known for years, much less computer people I met last week whose main job is to soak up laser damage. If I want to play a dating sim, I’ll play one. In the meantime I’d like to go on missions shooting evil bug robots or what have you.
I did talk to everyone enough to get their personal missions, which was a parade of dads. Nearly every one involved either that person’s dad or that person’s son (one exception is the Asari’s — I don’t even remember her name because who actually cares about her — but their entire race is female so it’s still pretty dad). If they didn’t have a dad they had a person or place who created them that they had to go deal with before they could focus on the mission at hand and wear a different outfit. There are ten such companions and I can only think of three of them that don’t follow this pattern. How do you write out seven different missions and not notice that you’ve used a father-son thing in each one of them (usually to no particular effect)?
I don’t know why it bugs me in Mass Effect, as similar dumb missions and characters I don’t care about appear in games I love, such as Fallout 3. I suppose part of it is that, unlike Fallout 3, the character who is “me”, Shepard, is also boring as a pile of cold washrags. She (mine is a she) isn’t interesting, but she also doesn’t fade into the background like in Fallout 3 so that you can sort of lay your own interpretation on top of her. She’s intrusively dull. Caring which of the Daddy crew gets to smooch on her would be like being genuinely invested in who wins America’s Next Top Model.
This emphasis on personal missions and stuff also takes a whole lot of the urgency out of the main mission. It’s really hard to believe that the Collectors are a genuine threat to humanity when no one has a problem with heading off to Bumfuckicron Omega because Jack just can’t even deal. If the game acknowledged and had fun with this it would be okay, but that would mean some kind of humor would have slipped in. Or if, as in (again) Fallout 3, the Collectors were a threat you only gradually find out about as you do other things, that would make a little more sense. But when Cerberus, which supposedly has tons of agents out there, sends their top man to leave the “save the galaxy” mission and go retrieve some stolen cargo, it’s just too much.
When I was running around and shooting things ME2 was fun enough, though it was pretty clear that that portion of the game was not the priority. I barely used anything except the assault rifle and the particle beam, went with disruptors for robots and fire for everyone else, had very little difficulty with any of the enemies, and noticed no difference whatsoever in which squad members I took with me.
I’ll move on to ME3 eventually and finish the series out, but there’s just nothing there for me to really hang on to.