The Best Franchise of Last Generation: Bioware Strikes Back

Last time I talked about how Mass Effect was good at creating its world and lore but fell down when it came to how it played. In 2010, Bioware released it’s eagerly anticipated sequel. It was imaginatively called Mass Effect 2 and like any great sequel it learned form the mistakes of its predecessor.

The first glimpses we had of the game from preview events (remember back when you could trust what you saw at these?) showed engagements that had developed in leaps and bounds from the original. There was a greater focus on making the gameplay more engaging while not skimping on story development. The gunplay is much tighter and responsive. I played a soldier throughout my first playthrough of the series and there was a marked difference in both the overall feel of the weapons at your disposal as well as the general flow of combat. Almost every weapon feels weighty and has a satisfying damage model.

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ME2 covers the “Decay” portion of the trilogy and in a big way. Like Empire Strikes Back it really shakes up the cast. The Normandy is destroyed and you literally die at the start of the game. The greater threat to the Galaxy is beginning to show itself with the Collectors capturing and sacrificing people to their Reaper overlords. Shepard is at their lowest point in the story; being stripped of your Spectre privileges because you were declared dead. Nobody believes that there is this great threat to all civilization. The story even culminates in one big suicide mission where you can actually, canonically die (though this was retconned in ME3).

A good story usually has a dark middle chapter, a real challenge for the character to overcome in order to achieve their goal. The middle of the story is there to test who these characters are and what they would do in a dire situation. A concept I looked at previously was the protagonist blank slate. Shepard although having both a face and a voice is a blank slate for you, the player, to implant yourself directly into the story. You created this iteration of Shepard and you control all of their actions. You are Shepard and they are you. The game does a very good job of testing you, the player, in how you would react in a particular circumstance. There is a greater focus on the Paragon/Renegade system here with many situations branching off into different eventualities. You created these events by your actions, your decisions are really important to the outcome of this game. Life or death for important characters in some cases.

Mass Effect 2 also made you care more about your squadmates, introducing the loyalty missions to the game. These missions gave you a greater insight into the motivations of your buddies and gave them a deeper characterisation. Take Miranda for instance, at the start of the game she is an arrogant, perfectionist who appears to be out for herself. If you complete her loyalty mission you discover that her greatest motivation is to protect her sister; the reason she is such a perfectionist is because of the abusive relationship she has with her father who basically experimented on her. It gave probably the most disliked character in the game a concrete reason for their personality and made them a more believable character.

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ME2 is much darker than it’s predecessor and gives both weight and context to the foundations that ME1 developed over the course of its story. This entry is probably the most beloved of the series because it was executed very well with a clear purpose, set up for the next one. The middle part of a story is possibly easiest part to create. You know where you’ve come from and you know where you plan on going to someday. The destination can be either singular destination that was planned for months at this point, or it can be as simple as “The End”. Which is what I will explore in the next part.

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