All About MrOrmond
BioWare, A well respected development house known for making some of the most critically acclaimed RPGs of the last decade. With the dawn of Mass Effect 2, and the New Year, it seems like, atleast one of their development teams, is doing their best to try and change their outlook on the industry. Now, with the words I'm about to use to describe Mass Effect 2 does not mean that I hate the game, nor do I think the game is "bad". What I'm going to attempt to do is point out what the game exactly is. Which that it is an Action Adventure game. Mass Effect 2 is just so insanely different from it's kin, so much different that it seems like calling ittself a "Role-Playing Game" would be lying to itself. While you do assume the role of Commander Shepard and get to choose how he decides to dispense his brand of justice, Most of the "Role-Playing" aspect ends right then and there. Even though my opinion cannot determine what makes an RPG what it is, BioWare over the years has made so many of them that they themselves nearly wrote the book on it along with the other holy messiahs of the genre. So using their past games to point out the genetic mutations done to this game, I shall attempt to try to categorize this game in the right genre, and reunite it with its real brethren.
MICROMANAGEMENT AND INVENTORIES
Now, I actually have been meaning to ask this question to many a person who has been playing these kinds of games for as long as I have. That question would be "When has Micromanagement become a problem in RPGs?". While Mass Effect 1 had somewhat of a loot system, Mass Effect 2 didn't even have an inventory. Yes, Mass Effect 1's inventory and micromanagement was somewhat of a hassle compared to other games BioWare has done, like Knights of the Old Republic, While KoTOR had a "Loot the body" kind of loot system, Mass Effect 1 had the unfortunate luck of having a "Pick up everything no matter what system". You killed something, it was automatically picked up for you, and more often then not, would end up overloading your inventory if you didn't perform a spring cleaning every once in a while. Though at some point, spring cleaning, or going into your inventory would become irrelevant, because of the fact you'd end up getting one weapon with the certain attachments you were looking for and no longer needed to go into that screen, unless you needed to re-equip a party member. Another problem had with it's inventory system was the problem Mass Effect 1 had with it's economy, there wasn't one person I knew that didn't have 9,999,999 credits with their Shepard's. While Mass Effect 2 fixed this problem, one could argue that it's hard to get credits in the game. There was no selling items to merchants, since everything was reverted to what I'd like to call "Jade Empire". Mass Effect 2 decided to go the same route, only this time you could buy armor to customize your Shepard with, but there was slim to none located throughout the whole game. It seems that BioWare decided to replace credits with the resources you scan planets to find, little did they know that you still need credits to buy the so-called upgrades in order to even use those resources. To me, this just seems ridiculous all together, Mass Effect 1's inventory and micromanagement needed to be reworked, not removed for something more simpler. I don't think "Up to 19 weapons!" is a good advertisement, considering other games in the RPG field put this number to shame. Though I do have to admit the system does work for what it is, It's simply not an RPG accustomed interface. It's more like an Action Adventure game with a little weapon progression. To say it's Army of Two would be an overstatement, but it does take examples from it and goes a teeny little more in depth. While I do understand this was an attempt to streamline this game to a broader audience, I can't help to be a little insulted after being told "I can't handle my own inventory".
One of the scariest sights I have seen so far this year had to have been the Illusive Man's backside. Not the backside itself but what is included with his glorious posture. You see, Mass Effect 2's missions have now been separated from the world itself, and now take place within a tiny location that can be accessed only once. While Mass Effect 1 may of had the same thing, they definitely didn't have a mission complete sign. The game seemed to have contracted the MMO dungeon syndrome, as this is the only way I can describe it. Most of the cities are a central hub with instanced off areas that either are available to you now or will unlock later in the game. Missions that you do within cities actually make me laugh, simply because they specifically asked me what party members I wanted to bring along with me, only to find out that I have to re-pick them when I go do a mission within the city. What was the point of letting me pick the party in the first place if you were just going to make me do it again? Once you do all of that and complete the mission, you are brought to the fabled screen I began to describe at the beginning of this segment. It is a screen that brings up the mission's outcome, what you found, how many credits you got, and so on and so forth. Now this system does work well with missions you find while scanning planets, it just makes it a little redundant when doing missions in the cities. While I did compare this system to an MMO's instanced dungeons, it also reminds me clearly of some Action Adventure games where you pick the level you want to play on, finish the mission, and get brought to the very same screen depicting how you did. This actually brings me to my second point:
Exploration and Freedom
Now, with these instanced off areas only accessible once in the entire game, it makes one of the most important features RPGs have had since the dawn of time. Which would be Exploration and Freedom. Now, there hasn't been many a BioWare game that actually had "Freedom" in their games, such as Bethesda's worlds, or Black Isle Studio's games, BioWare atleast had a way in most games to revisit areas. With Mass Effect 1, it was Planet Exploration with this. Since that feature was just "hated" by the "community", this shouldn't of been burnt on the cross right off the bat. Space exploration was replaced with Space scanning, and to be honest, that was a terrible trade-off. We sacrificed a feature that could of been reworked (Yes, space exploration could of been reworked to an acceptable state), but now all we have are rendered balls of mass on the screen in which we shoot our hot probes all over in order to get minerals. There are planets that do have anomalies, which means these planets can be landed on, they're nothing but linear missions with nearly the same outcome. Now I myself did not enjoy seeing the cookie cutter moon base layouts and the emptiness of the planet surface, it felt HECK of a lot more better than just spraying my hot load onto a planet for it's shiny resources. Heck I COULD of BEEN on those planets looking for those very resources! I mean the random mission you do on some planets have nearly +4000 of most of the resources lying on the ground somewhere! It's just baffling that they would trade for a "hated" feature for a "soon to be hated" feature. Unless I wasn't paying attention to development and they WERE trying to rework planet exploration, then I'll reserve my judgement, it's just that the game itself, thanks to its instanced areas and minimal planet exploration, the game just seems much more like a destination than it does a journey.
This is actually a very distinctive part of Mass Effect 2 that separates it from most RPGs. You don't get EXP for anything you do in missions, you only get EXP for their outcomes. This might be because of the fact Mass Effect 2's level cap is nearly half as less as Mass Effect 1's level cap. Why the sudden change? This actually makes the game seem a heck of a lot more shorter, considering all you have to do to get a valid ending for this game is to collect all your party members, and go stop The Collectors. All of this can be done within a short matter of time if you are skipping dialog scenes like a madman. Though just doing the main missions will most likely end you up about ten levels under the level cap, but it really doesn't matter, the enemies scale with your level anyway. The thing about it is that with such a small level cap and so little abilities to spend squad points on in the first place, you can easily forget that there is even a level system at all. Of course this depends on the difficulty you play on, but what's forcing you to do so? Pride? Challenge? I basically see playing RPGs on the hardest difficulty as this, you're just reading the book upside down. Why make reading a book harder than it should be? Most of the time in RPGs, when you put it on a harder difficulty, its not the same as an FPS, or a Beat em' up. The enemies get more health, more defences to your weapons, resistances and immunities to your powers, and all in all are more of a chore than a challenge to defeat. Especially with Mass Effect 2 picking up ammo for their weapons this time around. With the level cap as small as it is, and with only four powers with every party member, it really seems more like a Third Person Shooter with character progression. There just isn't enough room for your character to progress in terms of ability to make it like your normal RPG.
In conclusion, while Mass Effect 2 is a stunning game in its own regards, I simply just don't see how it's a stunning Role-Playing Game. While I did admit, it does have some of the very features that all RPGs do have, it seems like it tries it's best to stray away from it. It tries in a very lazy manner to mirror these important pieces, replace or remove fan loathed features, and tries to build ontop of it with it's newly reworked combat. I like Mass Effect 2, I really do, though it doesn't have to lie to me in order for me to show affection to it. There's nothing wrong for it to embrace itself as an Action Adventure game, it doesn't have to take up the title RPG just because of the pedigree it comes from. Which is why I suggest that the game be re-categorized so that it can be with it's real family, not as a defunct sibling of a genre that can only claim so much inheritance.
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