Mass Effect 2 is a smash hit science fiction role playing action game developed by BioWare and Published by Electronic Arts. It’s the second chapter in a planned trilogy. With over 32 Perfect Scores from various video game magazines and rave reviews from Hardcore Gamer, IGN, The official Xbox Magazine, Gamespot and many others, it was very well received even despite lacking in a few areas.
The Mass Effect series effectively melds together the best of what art, game play, visual effects and story have to offer in this interactive medium. The development of Mass Effect 2 was both arduous and exhilarating and in the end they helped change the way we play RPGs.
In developing one of the biggest games of 2010, BioWare chose to take an ambitious approach in redesigning key elements to the game that many fans came to know and love from its predecessor. From visuals to character armor, and from the environments and the controls, many aspects of the game were improved while some were left lacking or in the worst cases, completely stripped from the game.
The changes to the Mass Effect 2‘s action sequences and controls ended up getting a mixed from skeptical critics and amongst those many changes were of the cover system. Bioware Developer Christina Norman told GamesRadar:
“We decided to build shooter combat first — not in priority, but in order — it needed a lot of improvement and BioWare aren’t experts on shooter combat. By focusing on it first we figured we’d remove a lot of uncertainty about other features. We wanted more satisfying combat and a big part of that is making weapons more accurate and powerful at level one — basically saying ‘let’s take the RPG out of the shooter.’ We look like a shooter so that aspect of our combat should play like a shooter.”
In references to the complete change in the “ammo” system, Project Director Casey Hudson says:
“One of the most controversial changes to the combat was probably how ammo works… It was something that wasn’t part of the main game design but instead was implemented as a test by a game play programmer. The Lead Designer was against the idea, but tested the ‘ammo’ version of the game for several weeks in total secrecy before concluding that it made a huge improvement to the tension and pacing of combat. Then when he pitched it to me, I was against it until I played it for a while and was convinced as well. Some of the best ideas in ME2 happened that way, where a passionate member of the team took their own time to try something they thought would be great, and it eventually passed harsh scrutiny to become part of the experience.”
Unfortunately this is one of the examples that didn’t improve the experience. Instead, it added a layer that didn’t make sense with the confines of the story (and this is a heavily story-based game) and the universe we saw before. Having these large cylinders sometimes drop from fallen enemies and sometimes not, and having them used by every weapon by every villain, added an arcade element that didn’t belong. Also, if these heat sinks are interchangeable and can be used for every weapon, why can’t I interchange them amongst my own weapons (i.e. from my pistol to my sniper rifle)?
The inventory overhaul is one of the more dramatic changes from the original and is actually one of the furthest deviations from traditional RPG games. The stand-alone inventory system was scrapped (read: not improved) for a more minimal template. In fact, it was so simplified that fans wouldn’t consider it an inventory system at all and this also impacted the economy or lack thereof in the universe of Mass Effect 2. Said Christina Norman:
“We needed to make a much better, much more awesome inventory but we needed to support up to twelve squad members plus Shepard… I spent a long time looking at various RPG inventory systems and I couldn’t find anything that would work. Nothing could handle that huge number of characters… So, we went with the squad inventory system. We changed it to a system which says ‘Tali you can use this shotgun’ and you don’t have to take it away from someone else. We do have an inventory but it’s just so simple some people say it’s not an inventory system. It fits better into our fiction where you can manufacture anything you need — it’s always been a little weird that you’re Commander Shepard with the most advanced spaceship in the galaxy out to save the world but he has to go and haggle to get a rifle for his crew.”
This ended up taking away the RPG element and feel of reward and development from picking up better weapons and passing them to your team, specifying which weapons and items work better for specific characters in specific situations. It’s been cited before about the number of characters but in actual gamplay, you only utilize two of them while the rest stand on the ship. Why have 12 characters if you can only use 2 if it takes away from what many consider a critical RPG element? That’s a lot to take away in terms of features and customization for those who still wish to play in that level of detail. Simplifying features is one thing, but not allowing the detail for hardcore players and established fans is different.