What’s wrong with Bioware? (Mass Effect 2)

Mass Effect 2

I used to think that Bioware was the coolest studio out there. They were putting out games I absolutely loved: mainly Baldur’s Gate and its sequel. I always forget that the AD&D game I liked the best, Icewind Dale, was not a Bioware production despite using their Infinity engine in the Forgotten Realms setting – it was Black Isle’s (of Planescape Torment and Fallout 2 fame).

Up to Knights Of The Old Republic – still the best Star Wars entertainment out there apart from the original trilogy – they could do no wrong. I fell in love with Star Wars all over again because of that game.

I skipped Neverwinter Nights due to not having a gaming PC at the time. From what I hear, it suffered from a lack of focus. MDK2 was alright. I was a big enough man to allow them this sidetrack into action.

Then there was Jade Empire, which was good, but not what I was expecting. The mechanics were weird. The fighting worked, but it never felt good. As ever, the world and the characters were very cool and inspired. I did not mind the smaller scale and overall I really enjoyed my time in the kung fu epic.

I am a big fan of Mass Effect, but that’s the point I realized Bioware is not something I can unconditionally trust anymore. The inventory was broken, most of the mechanics were poorly implemented (poower use, Mako driving), inadequately explained (grenades) or just broken (skills) and the fighting was never fun in and of itself.

What they got right was a super cool science fiction world, characters, and dialogue. My FemShep kicks all kinds of ass and I love her for it and Bioware for letting me do that. The story held me all the way, even though it contained only new space opera cliches. I didn’t care about the problems, because the narrative completely seized me.

Considering that Mass Effect 2 got even higher praise than the original game, I was ready to get it on. About ten hours in, I completely lost my interest.

It’s the same world, much of the same characters, same good dialogue, improved combat and somewhat improved mechanics, but they’ve completely dropped the ball with the story.

I have no idea what I’m doing and why (I guess there’s a gate I should jump in), and I don’t care. I’ve been told to go and collect all of my missing friends, gotta catch ’em all style, and then talk to them and talk to them until they offer me a mission to get them to trust me. This is not what I imagined the second chapter of saving the goddamn universe (again) to be like!

It’s like an endless sequence of those pointless fetch-a-thons that comprise the side quests of most RPGs (Bioware’s included). Even though the missions are generally well put together, well framed and well acted, I just don’t give a shit. Getting my crew together should be a side order, not the main course.

Apparently the game ends in a cliffhanger once you’re finally ready to go to the gate and jump in to tackle the actual threat to everything in existence. Sorry, a game of cloned preludes cannot hold my attention. I don’t think I’m going to complete the game, and probably will just skip to Mass Effect 3.

We’ll see how Mass Effect 3 manages to resolve these issues, if at all. At least my damn group should be together already. And based on how much the fans of the original Dragon Age hated the sequel  – which I haven’t played already, but I very much mean to, precisely because of the internet furore – maybe they’ve learned some lessons.

Less is more: Dragon Age has a lot to learn here with its swathes of uninteresting content. Show, don’t tell: Mass Effect’s best stuff is hidden away in a codex. I need a motivation to do stuff: Mass Effect 2, I’m looking at you. These are cliches because they’re true. They’re also simple rules which Bioware used to know. Previously they’ve only struggled with mechanics and game rules – initially helped by using an established ruleset when working on Wizards‘ systems – now they’ve started to stumble on their unique strengths. It worries me.



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