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Mass Effect was one of those titles that I had zero interest in until it came out. For some reason I decided to give it a try. That approach doesn’t always work out so well, but in this case it led me to what I felt was the best game of 2007 – one that I ended up playing through three times. I enjoyed the universe so much that I’ve read the novels by Drew Karpyshyn, who also wrote the story for the game. The soundtrack was easily the best of the year and one of the most unique in a long time. Needless to say my anticipation for Mass Effect 2 was extremely high.
While the second entry was great, to me it doesn’t even touch the impact that the original had. The numerous weapons and add-ons were trimmed down from hundreds to dozens, there was now ammo, the optional exploration missions with the Mako were swapped out for an extremely boring planet scanning system, and worst of all the story didn’t even touch the original. If anything did hold up it was the music, thanks to returning composer Jack Wall.
That’s not to say that ME2 didn’t bring with it some critical improvements. Combat felt way better than the original, even though the weapon selection was less customizable. Visually the game was much more gorgeous, and the cookie-cutter locations of the first game were replaced with all unique areas. Also the characters, already a great part of the series, got even better in ME2. Of course the menus were quite improved compared to the original. The easy thing for me to say here is “take the good parts of the first two games,” but I’ll be more specific.
Mass Effect is more than a third-person shooter. When Mass Effect was first introduced to the world, people were excitedly labeling it as a successor to Bioware’s Knights of the Old Republic, which is fairly accurate. There was a system of good and evil that was derived from dialogue choices and your actions throughout the game. While that element certainly isn’t going anywhere, nor is the leveling-up, it would be nice to see both of those areas expanded on. I understand that Bioware wants to make this game accessible for players that just want to shoot things, but there is more to Mass Effect than, say, Gears of War, and they should take advantage of that unique position.
Let’s not recruit a whole new team. Mass Effect 2 got a lot of slack for its team recruiting plot. I won’t knock it so hard for that. The first game was essentially more running into people that happened to join your squad and less of a list of people you were looking for. Either way, we’ve done this twice, so it’s time to move on and come up with another plot element that glues everything together. I understand that you don’t want to start a game with 10 characters all at level 99, but for story purposes you can at least have the characters there and build them up throughout the game via leveling and equipment. There are still plenty of things to do if you start off with all or most of the team.
Make me want to explore. In the original Mass Effect, exploration was part of what made the game so great. You could land on planets not part of the regular storyline and explore with your Mako. Now I know that just the mere mention of the Mako can cause queasiness in some (I still think the Mako was easier to drive than the Warthog from Halo…), but even if you remove that from the equation, going to an actual planet and exploring is way more interesting than just sitting in your ship and using a scanner to see what minerals are there. Minerals that gave what ultimately felt like pointless upgrades. If this element comes back, then another has to go along with it: loot. I would venture to guess that in the first hour or two of the original Mass Effect, you could potentially find more weapons, armor and add-ons than you can get in all of Mass Effect 2. I’m not sure if anyone actually complained about the loot. Maybe those that thought they were picking up a shooter, but I’ve never heard anybody say something like, “Boy, Torchlight has way too many items in it,” or “I wish there were a lot less weapons in Diablo.” It almost seems like the lack of loot was a response to everyone’s dislike of the menu system. If that’s true, that was the wrong way to go about fixing it.
My ship has a navigator, but I can’t navigate my ship. As in every game, I appreciate the realism (well, as real as a sci-fi game can get) that Mass Effect has offered. One of those elements is being able to walk about the Normandy to access all its areas. Although it’s nowhere near the absurd no-menu system that Fable III thought would be a good idea, it can get a little annoying to have to walk around and take elevators just to do something as simple as, say, upgrade a weapon. Leave that in, but make it optional to just be able to hop around between areas of the ship through a menu, or better yet, have a menu accessible only in the ship that lets you take care of whatever you need to.
Helmets. Take them off during the cutscenes. Please.
Don’t make me mute you. If I wrote up a list of my favorite games and game soundtracks, you’d notice that they’d almost match. The same goes for films. Soundtracks are a very important part of games to me and Mass Effect has had its experienced enhanced thanks to its solid soundtrack from composer Jack Wall. That’s why I was devastated when I heard he would not be returning to finish off the trilogy. Instead we get Clint Mansell, aka the guy from Pop Will Eat Itself. He’s also known for doing plenty of movie soundtracks, a career which he began by scoring Darren Aronofsky’s first film Pi. If you listen to it, you can sort of imagine some of the music fitting into the atmosphere of Mass Effect, with a few tweaks of course, especially if they’re still going for the Jack Wall feel. Either way I’m incredibly curious as to what this game will sound like when all is said and done, but Mr. Mansell has quite a lot to live up to.
Jack Wall Clint Mansell
Make my previous exploits matter. One of the major selling points of the original Mass Effect was the promise that in future games, your actions in the first game will have mattered. So far it's been mostly mild results from what seemed to be major events. Kaiden didn’t die, so I ran into him. Nothing happened. Wrex did die so I didn’t see him. Didn’t change much. One thing Bioware has said is that your choice of either killing off the rachni queen in the original Mass Effect or letting her live will really come into play in Mass Effect 3, something that I look forward to, as it was just briefly mentioned in the second game. These are the kind of world-altering results I’d like to see. Right now I feel like I’m hardly changing anything, and Bioware has one more shot to fix that. I want to be able to talk to someone about their playthrough and have it sound like they were playing an entirely different game, something that I’ve only experienced so far with Heavy Rain.
Give me “Return of the King,” not “Return of the Jedi.” The loss of a Jack Wall soundtrack might not be that big of a deal to some, but the fact that Drew Karpyshyn, who wrote the original game, the novels, and co-wrote the second game, will not be involved with the third installment is very concerning. Mass Effect has a wonderfully crafted universe, one that can hold up not just this story, but many more, as proven through Karpyshyn’s novels. The second game had a very weak plot compared to the original, but I’m hoping that not only will the third one redeem itself, but quite possibly justify the second game’s plot as well. If anything has held up it’s the characters, and I also hope that trend continues in this final chapter. Finally, even though this is the final chapter, I think it would only be appropriate to wrap things up where wrapping up is necessary, but aside from that some things should be left open for either future games or novels or whatever. Like I said, this is a wonderful universe, and I’d hate to see it die so quickly.