I Have A Sudden Urge to Play Fallout 3: the Fallout 1 Review

Have you ever played a game, and suddenly wanted to play a different game, because of the first game? That’s exactly what happened to me when I sat down with Fallout 1. You need to understand that I played, and beat, Fallout 3 before touching Fallout 1. I can’t play this game without thinking about how much fun its distant sequel is.

I’ve asked a friend of mine why people think Fallout 3 isn’t a true successor to Fallout 1, and the answer apparently comes down to the tactical map used for combat. That’s fair, from one perspective, but I feel like the essence of the gameplay is basically the same. I mean, I really just see Fallout 3 as a first person, three-dimensional, version of the series. Same humor. Same universe. Same atmosphere. Same themes. Same gameplay (except, arguably, the combat).

I’m harping on this because I’d come into Fallout 1 expecting it to be different. Perhaps… better? I mean, I liked 3, but I was given some high expectations for this game that it didn’t meet. It’s kind of short and not so open-world as the game map makes it appear to be. It’s occasionally obtuse in the worst ways. There’s a nasty couple bugs that even the modding community hasn’t fixed in over a decade. I really hope I’m not surprising anybody when I point out the game has flaws, but I feel like it needs be said. It’s a good game, but I feel like 3 improved upon the formula.

As for the game itself, well, it’s Fallout. I think I ought to have a general “Fallout universe” review some time, because I don’t want to go through five reviews repeating how awesome power armor is or how horrifying super mutants are.

For now I’ll say that in spite of its flaws, it’s a good game. If you’re looking for a solid RPG, give it a go, especially if you like Fallout 3. It’s good to know your roots.


Aetherial Mundanity – “Mass Effect” 1, 2, and 3 Review

About a year ago, one of my friends told me that Mass Effect is the best RPG he has ever played. Actually, he might have said “best video game”, but it would be about the same to me. Anyway, I put some stock into his opinion because we have somewhat similar tastes and he has played a decent selection of RPGs. Then again, he also told me that Dragon Age was in his top three games at the time. Anyone whose kept up with my blog knows I do not hold Dragon Age in nearly such vaunted opinion. So, I did not keep my hopes up for Mass Effect.

My history with western RPGs is sparse compared to my experience with JRPGs. I was never part of the trend of playing the older games, like Ultima and Wizardry. Some games are just so dated that I would never get around to playing through them unless stuck on a desert island. And even then, I might find a new appreciation for building sand castles.

I’ve had some recent experience with WRPGs; Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale, Dragon Age, Fallout 3, Planescape: Torment. Generally speaking, I like what I’ve played. It hasn’t blown me out of the water, and I have not sworn off JRPGs; WRPGs are just another category of game I like. So, that’s where I stand coming in to Mass Effect.

Mass Effect is good. I like the game. And when I say “the game”, I mean the trilogy. I will acknowledge the differences between the games, but taken as a unit, I like the game.

Boy oh boy. As I write this, people cannot shut up about the story. I’ll try not to get wrapped up in the controversy.

So, at it’s heart, the game’s plot is: every 50,000 years, an omnipotent machine army destroys all spacefaring sentient life in the galaxy. You play the role of Commander Shepard, a human with the resources and the drive to uncover their plan and unite the galaxy against them. Good set-up for an epic confrontation. Bonus points for making the main character a person in a position of power; as a Commander, he wields a lot of experience and authority. Plus, his ascension to Spectre rank gives him more actual authority to do what needs be done. I usually felt like Shepard deserved to be in control of the situation; if anything, sometimes I felt like he deserved to be more in control.

Actually, that became a bit of a problem later in the game. Sometimes I felt like the other characters were being spiteful for the sake of being spiteful. The Council is incredibly unhelpful, and no amount of explaining it away will really change the feeling that they are truly bullheaded. I mean, I could understand, until Shepard saved their lives. After sacrificing the human fleet to save three lives, I expect some deference.

Did my choices really matter? In the grand scheme of things, no. If I consider the game’s ending to be the benchmark for how my choices mattered, then my choices mattered nothing at all. The game has three endings, which are basically the same, and which are really predicated only on one decision Shepard makes at the very end. The ending is also just about five minutes long and deals with the game in very broad strokes. It is an interesting ending, but not an excellent one. Ironically, I am not sure what I would add to the ending as-is. Getting into details might just diminish the ending’s mood. Plus, given that the mass relays are destroyed, the future is looking bleak. I thought a montage might be in order, showing what happened to everybody. But, given the situation, it would be pretty depressing. There’s not a whole lot of room for their stories to continue on a grand scale. That feeds into a general problem I have with the ending. It’s an okay ending. I just wish it was something else. Maybe if the mass relays hadn’t been destroyed. I get the symbolism, but it limits the scope of the galaxy.

Back to the plot itself. I like the characters. We get a lot of opportunity to learn more about all of Shepard’s traveling companions. And for a stand-in protagonist, Shepard is very well-developed. The game has a good meeting between the player controlling Shepard’s actions and the character having independent thought. The dialogue system is a fair representation of this: the player decides what idea Shepard means to convey, but Shepard chooses the actual dialogue.

Choices. Oh, the choices. Did they ever matter? I’m going to work my way backwards on this one. The endings, like I said, are not substantially different. You could play the game two completely different ways and, in the end, those decisions have no impact on the ending; just the final choice. And, although that final choice makes some difference, the difference, again, is insubstantial.

S, what about the third game itself? Well, I’ll tell you that the decisions you make in the third game have a pretty big impact on how the third game itself develops. The fate of the Geth and the Quarians depend on what you do. Mordin’s life is in your hands. So is Wrex’s.The game itself can play out a lot of different ways. So, I was happy about that.

On the other hand, my decisions from Mass Effect 1 and 2 had almost no substantial impact on the events of ME3. This is a problem because the previous two games, ME2 in particular, had me sweating over some decisions, excited about how they would cause the third game to play out. But the most substantial difference was whether Eve lives and the numbers on the war asset board; and I don’t really care whether a fleet is worth 50 or 100 points; that’s not much story to me. Anyway, destroyed the genophage cure? Well, they found a way to quickly get it up and running again anyway. Did you convert all the Heretic geth to the side of the “good” geth? All the geth ally with the Reapers anyway. Cerebus has its hands on some serious Reaper technology whether or not you destroyed the Collector base. The list goes on. I felt like I could have skipped ME2 and the story would be practically the same, except I would not be buddy-buddy with the cast of ME2. And I never did get anything for letting the Alliance experiment on that guy’s wife from the beginning of ME1.

So, Mass Effect 2. That’s a game where I felt like I was making a lot of really important decisions that would affect ME3. But none of them really did matter. Even Arrival. In a way, it would be better if I did not play Arrival. Then I would not have had to doom tens of thousands to death to prevent the Reapers’ early arrival. They just would not come that early. Whee…

And ME1? Well, in both ME1 and 2, I felt like I had a lot of different paths through the games. It all ends the same, though. That’s what bothers me in general about the games. I know games have limited memory and design teams need to spend a lot of time to work on completely different branches. But, in principle, I am waiting for a game where the game can branch and does not end up anywhere near the same place for its ending based on the path you choose. The closest I have seen are in Planescape: Torment and Vanguard Bandits, which give the players extremely different paths or endings based on choices.

Wow, I am not sure what else I want to say about the story. I twas epic. Big fights. Lots of emotional drama. Loved the voice acting. The music score is amazing. I felt like there was a lot of history behind the setting. Characters were often complex and moral decisions often times felt significant. I sometimes struggled between options that felt equally right. The game works in symbolism, love, hatred, revenge, sadness, humor, intrigue, war, horror, and lots of other things. This is a robust game. So, the story: I like it. There are a lot of flaws with it’s ultimate choice progression, but I think it’s a good story beyond that. The failure of the choice progression is a major flaw because it retroactively makes the games worse: choices that the player thought were significant ultimately were insignificant. If I play through the games again, I will be incurious about many of the alternate decisions I could have made because I know what the result is: the same.

Mentioned this already, but worth repeating. I love the game’s sound track. Beautifully orchestrated, fitting for every scene. My favorite song is from the third game: “Leaving Earth”, which gives a powerful feeling of hopelessness and impending doom.

Pre~tty. I play an actually new video game once every two or three years, so I get to see an impressive graphics jump. I was still painfully aware of some flaws at times, but they were not a big deal. In the first game, the planets your land rover crosses a variety of landscapes that do not have much texturing to them. The second game has a big problem with objects passing through other solid objects. In the third game, I could still tell that some things were just too smooth, but it was an improvement over the previous couple games. Overall, the graphics started out great and only improved with each iteration.

I could compare this game to Planescape: Torment for letting the party resolve some events non-violently, but really? You spend a lot of time fighting. Particularly in the third game, where enemies start coming in waves. I began feeling like I wasn’t a clever tactician; I felt more like a rampaging machine of death. I eschewed strategy for endless sweeps of Biotic Charge + Nova, repeat. A lot of that could be because of my strategy, but I do not think either of the first two games had enemies with repeating spawn points that I could camp.

Well, how about some nice things to say about combat? I actually think it improved between games. I much prefer the faster pace of combat in the second and third games. Character classes felt increasingly dissimilar from each other. Despite having the largest set of skills, I do not think the first game did a particularly good job of making the Soldier feel truly distinct from the Vanguard. Instead, I played most of the game feeling like the Vanguard was a poor substitute for the soldier. That could just be from the way I built my Vanguard, but it was not until the second game, where I got Biotic Charge, that I felt like the Vanguard stood out.

Other Thoughts
This actually is one of the finest games I have played. I like the main character’s personality and motivations. The supporting cast is colorful, especially the people who join Shepard’s squad. I really got to know a lot of characters fairly well. The combat was smooth and engaging… well, until the third game, when it all fell apart (Biotic Charge->Nova->Biotic Charge-Nova->Biotic Charge…). It is a pretty game with some depth to its world.

But is it really philosophic? Do we learn anything? I mean, does it have that feel that some really great books and movies have? Or even other games, like Planescape: Torment managed? Mm… I guess that is where it falls apart in the very end. The game feels like a movie for much of it; and it feels like a serious endeavor. It wants to be more than just a game; it wants to be artistic. And, I know, games can be art – but not many go out of their way to capture the cinematic artistic feel (somehow, that sounds way too fancy when I type it out). This one does. And so, it succeeds at that for most of the story, but falters at the very end. So, like any movie or book that would be judged by the merits of its plot strength and its ending, I gotta say that it is good, but has some significant flaws. Maybe that’s because EA influenced the third game when they bought Bioware. Maybe it’s because the writer for the first two games was not the same writer for the third. Maybe they just really did not know how they wanted to wrap up everything, tie it all together. They didn’t do a bad job; I’ve certainly seen bigger plot holes in other media. I guess what makes the flaws significant here is this: this is one of the most high profile video games of all time, and it takes a lot of chances. In many ways, those chances pay off. But it falters here and there. That is just going to happen. Now, that does mean the game isn’t perfect. But it is still also in the lofty realms of deeper storytelling that I have rarely seen in video games. And that is why I like Mass Effect.

The Prothean Awakens to SPIDERS!

Boy, law school, am I right, guys? Glad to be done with a huge exam I just had to take. Now to return to the land of the living *begins typing at computer screen*

This is Javik’s cruising coffin. It’s his home away from home, which is convenient because his home no longer exists. It’s about 50,000 years that-a-way.

This, by the way, is Javik. He’s a Prothean. Last of his kind. And he’s all yours for the low-low price of $10. Worth it? Well, I don’t think he’s essential to the story. However, he does have some really fun conversation options and he can enlighten the player on some of the setting’s history. I took him on every mission just because I wanted to hear what he has to say.

I hate the harvesters. I hate them because they are immune to bionic charge.

On the other hand, they are badass dragons, so I can’t hate them too much.

“Would you put an AI brain in a robot body?”
“I don’t know. Probably not.”
“What if that robot body was a woman?”

“Kaidan, you look like shit.”
“At least I’m still alive.”
“Well, good to know at least one of my decisions in the first game mattered.”

Hey, Thane, glad you could make it to the party.

I’m sure I’m not the only person who wishes there would be a “Cure Thane” DLC so we could put him into the party. “Hey, Thanke, we found a cure. It only cost $5.”

In the second game, I made an important decision about whether Kasumi should keep the little black box with tons of important data in it, but suffer from the ghostly memory of her dead lover, or destroy the box. I chose for her to keep the box because I thought it was useful; I was right. However, it turns out that if I told her to destroy the box, she got the data somehow anyway. Lame.

The Shepard VI is maybe the best thing about the game.

Nah. But it is cool.

“Together, we can beat anything. Except the Reapers. You ever see the size of one of those things?”

Of all the old crew, Jack has undergone the most significant costume change. She has a ponytail and she’s wearing an almost full suit of clothing.

Riding in the Atlas is one of the more engaging parts of the game. I don’t know if it’s really better than just Bionic Charging everything, but it is a lot of fun to see enemies being mowed down by its cannons.

*really whiny nasally voice* “I’m Miranda. I’m perfect. Look at my perfect little eyelashes. Don’t you just pity me?” Ugh… I wish I could excise her from the game.

Continuing the tradition of three letter names beginning with E, we have Eve. She is wearing an outfit that faintly reminds me of a burka. A very stylish one at that. I wasn’t expecting her voice to be so soft; she doesn’t have the gravelly tone of the male krogan. She’s also not consumed by battle lust. I don’t know if she is typical of krogan females, but she certainly stands out from every other krogan, and even every other character in the game. Wise, calm, and fun to talk with; in particular, her banter with Mordin is not to be missed. I wish she didn’t die in my game.

Did you think the Rachni were going to show up in ME3 being all badass with a huge army of insects, ready to kick ass and help out?

Then you’ll be disappointed to see that, instead, they have spawned a host of monstrosities the likes of which this galaxy has never seen. And you still get them only if you make another choice to save them. Why does it have to be so freakin’ difficult to *whine whine whine*

I know this Thresher Maw has a real name, but I’m just calling her the Thresher Maw of Awesomeness for right now. She defeats a Reaper single-handedly.

I spread the krogan cure. This is after saying we should destroy the data and telling Wrex I’d do it again.

Here’s the thing. I was working with limited data early on. In the second game, I figured we were at risk of having the krogan all go insane and destroy everybody after we got rid of the Reapers. Seemed like a sure thing to me. Like, why save yourselves just to be destroyed by the very cure? Well, Wrex makes a good point that I should be able to trust him. He’s certainly doing a darn good job of things by the way things are going. That, and, it looks like the Reapers really are winning, so we might as well take the chance.

If not for the game’s ending, I would wonder how well the galaxy would fare given the choice I made. It’s a moot point, thankfully.

Bugs and Dogs

The Keepers are still running around the Citadel, like nothing has changed. This seems to me like a bad idea because they could become dangerous at any moment. What if they are programmed to shut down the Citadel at a critical moment? I know their primary function was deactivated by the Protheans, but things can go pear-shaped again quickly enough.

Kaidan has been hospitalized since the attack on Mars. Not doing so well. C’mon, Kaiden, come back to us! We need you in the squad roster.

Avina, sporting the new “muttonchops” upgrade.

Construction has begun on the plot device weapon!

And now for the most epic confrontation in the game. The final battle with the reporter. But this time, she has come prepared! Shepard tosses a punch, she ducks, she goes in for a blow, and Shepard counterattacks! I wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked the Renegade option this time around. I do feel bad about seeing her actually pass out this time. Little harsh there, Shepard.

This reporter has really big… cheeks!

Which reminds me, James is fre~akishly buff.

Anyway, I’m glad to have Diana on board.

When Shepard returns to the Normandy, he gets this weird dream sequence where he sees the dead boy from Earth. He chases him, but can move only in slow motion, then watches as flames consume the kid. Freaky stuff.

Liara has brought on board Glyph, the VI from the Shadow Broker’s ship. Not the most exciting little ball of holographic intelligence, but whatever. At least he doesn’t sound like Navi from The Ocarina of Time.

The first time I spoke with Liara on the ship, I had this weird problem where Shepard’s head kept switching back and forth, left and right, but never focusing on her.

Now here is a novel conversation system. Shepard actually fights James as he talks with him. Shepard can use a small variety of moves by clicking renegade and paragon options. I didn’t experiment with it, but the moves helped Shepard seal the fight in his favor.

Also, notice Shepard’s new digs. I figure I might as well put him in official Alliance gear for once. He looks good in it, if unremarkable.

Oh, hey, here’s the robot dog from the collector’s edition. Look at him! Isn’t he so cute? Aww, yes he is, yes he is! He was worth the extra $20 all by himself!

Vancouver and Mars (are no place to raise a kid) (after the Reapers invade)

We begin by zooming in on planet Earth, surrounded by an armada. The Reaper assault has entered the galaxy. Shepard, unfortunately, has been groundside for a while now.

He is summoned to meet with the admiralty board by this guy. Whose name I don’t remember. I guess he was in an earlier game, but I just do not recall who he is.

The Admiralty Board explains that things are going very badly. The Reapers are in the solar system. As the conversation continues we learn they are on Luna. And then in Britain. And, well…



So, war. Going badly.

Anderson helps Shepard stand up. Time to get the heck out of here. Earth might be screwed, but maybe they can save everything else.

This is a really miserable way to begin the game, after all the hope we had thought to build up in the previous two. Sitll, awesome.

The coolest thing is how the Reapers are actually moving in the background, like Shepard could actually run up and touch them. Or shoot them. Pew pew pew.

In this peculiar scene, Shepard sees a boy stuck in the vents. He goes over to speak with him and tries to get him to come out of the vent. Anderson calls to Shepard and when he looks back, the boy is gone. Did he just disappear? Are we supposed to find that strange? Isn’t that kid the same one who shows up later?

This one? If so, then I guess he didn’t disappear. But how did he dodge all the Reapers? Eh, I’m probably overthinking it – it was probably just set up for the later scene where that kid dies as Shepard leaves Vancouver.

My goodness, it’s like what if Fat Albert was turned into a geth?

The Normandy takes off, but Anderson stays behind, while reinstating Shepard. I do not think Anderson will have much work he can do on earth, honestly. I am not sure where he can go. But, hey, I wish him luck and hope he survives (ah, of course he will).

Off to the red planet Mars, to find some new information we can use against the Reapers. It was just now discovered. Why? Eh, plot convenience, no matter what else they say.

Liara is the one with the information. Say, isn’t she busy being the Shadow Broker? I guess it’s not a full time job because she has had time to leave and come to Mars to hang out and help Shepard.

Cerebus has a dirty little secret. Many dirty little secrets. And dirty big secrets. And dirty open secrets. And… ha-hem, anyway, here is one of their secrets. They have been modifying their soldiers, creating some kind of super-Reaper. I am now regretting again my decision to give them the Reaper technology. On the other hand, I kind of want to see what they do with it.

The Illusive Man shows up to make it clear that he and Shepard are no longer buddies. He points out that Shepard was a tool to him, nothing more. Well, we’ll just take him off Shepard’s birthday party invite list. That’ll show him. And we will foil his evil schemes. That one might matter a little more to him.

Ugh, the Illusive Man really needs to clean his jowls. Look how dirty they are.

And the events on Mars end by chasing this “doctor”, who does not really seem to be any kind of doctor at all. She seems to be either an android or some hyper-evolved human. Shepard catches her and puts her down. Then drags her prone body onto the ship and puts her where Legion was. Foreshadowing?

Mass Effect 2 Musings, Part Two

Kasumi’s loyalty mission begins on a weird note. She wants Shepard to help her recover data from…

This guy! Doesn’t he just look like a Bond villain? Anyway, part of breaking in involves giving him a gift…

A life-sized gold statue of Saren. That’s just weird. Why? Was Saren some well-known criminal? He was a Spectre!

This is the highlight of the mission; a visit to the villain’s museum, filled with artifacts, including the statue of David, the head of the statue of liberty, and even a troll from Dragon Age.

Behold! Emperor Wrex!

Okay, not really, but he is apparently the most powerful warlord right now. Again, I am impressed that the krogan are not just a bunch of dumb brutes. Sure, some are exceedingly violent, but plenty of them know the wisdom of controlling or channeling their rage to useful purposes.

Samara’s loyalty quest is tragic. She has three daughters, each born with a genetic defect that basically means they kill anybody they have sex with. Two of them went into isolation, but one, Morinth, fled.

Now, notice in this picture, you get to pick which of the two you want to kill. This really is a silly choice. I don’t know why they would let the player make it because, honestly, the player has no reason to save Morinth. Samara is oath-sworn to obey Shepard and is honorable. Morinth is evil: she gets her jollies by making people rely on her, then killing them. Furthermore, Shepard has no reason to believe she will follow him. But, hey, if you really want to save her, Shepard can then have sex with her and die.

During one of the missions, Shepard gets sucked into a virtual reality world. I could say that virtual reality does not work like this, but hey, it’s the future. I’m not going to complain about anything this creepy. The weird head in the first image is David, an autistic man who was hooked into a machine that let him connect to the Geth. Unfortunately, that did not work out very well. It turned him into an insane monster bent on corrupting computers on a galactic scale. So, couple bugs to work out of the next test run.

David’s set-up is horrifying. Permanently attached to this machine, possibly in pain. I feel kind of bad about leaving him in that situation. However, I figured that his brother has learned his lesson and that, furthermore, having him continue that sacrifice would save a lot of lives in the long run. My calculus is a bit more complicated than that, but also a touch muddied: I figure Shepard speaks for the Alliance and for the Citadel – this complicates how he should respond to a threat because he needs to think of the fates of everybody, not just the person in front of him.

In one of the missions, Shepard can acquire this Prothean relic. And put it in his room. I find that a little creepy. Counterargument: Shiiiiiiiiinyyyyyy.

On the derelict Reaper, Shepard can view recordings of peoples’ conversations. The creepiest one is between two guys who find them confusing each other’s memories. This is my favorite part of sci-fi; the bizarre horror element.

Legion is another fun character. The weird thing about talking with him is that Shepard is not speaking with some guy named Legion: he is speaking with the entire Geth race. Think of Legion as a dummy terminal. I find talking with him to be an edgy sort of deal because of that; any impression Shepard makes him Legion, he makes on the entire race. By the way, his profile at the Shadow Broker’s lair is really amusing. The stuff about being nearly banned for various infractions that suppose he is not an actual person, yet the only suspension he gets is from trash talking. Also, the geth apparently suck at cross-species dating.

I did Tali’s loyalty mission with Legion in tow. It does not change anything significant, but it does lead to some dramatic moments.

Maybe the most memorable sequence in ME2 is playing as Joker. He needs to give EDI access to all of the ship’s functions, but to do so, he needs to dodge the Collectors that are infiltrating the ship. They come busting through doors, grabbing other people; it is actually a little funny in a horrifying kind of way. Also, this section features Collector breeds we never see anywhere else in the game. I wonder why not.

The final mission is labeled suicide mission. I love a game with a good sense of dark humor.

Revenge! I am glad I improved the ship, making it able to survive the horrors at the center of the galaxy.

I really do want to incorporate videos into this blog somehow. Some scenes just do not play out very well going just by pictures, especially in a cinematic game.

Near the end of the assault, the squad is attacked by platform after platform of Collectors, each fitting in with the last platform to land, eventually forming a bridge to the end. Fools, if they had not landed, they would have been safe.

This game answers that question: how do Reapers reproduce? it turns out they do so with “goo”. Or “essence”. Yes, melt down humans and pump their “essence” into injector tubes, and fill a whole bunch of metal with the stuff. That creates a Reaper. If this sounds like magical BS, that is because it is. What is “essence”? Cool metal skeleton, though. Like a huge Terminator.

I was not sure what to expect of the Shadow Broker. I guess a big shadowy evil creature makes sense, but it is a bit generic. I cannot really complain, but… meh. He just is not anything special.

But the fight is kind of cool.

He has some kind of omni-tool shield. And the fight requires actually beating the crap out of him with Shepard’s fists. I find beating the crap out of things with one’s fists to be an excellent strategy in the late game. I actually took out a geth prime with this strategy. I had enough of dodging around crates, popping in and out of cover. So, I just charged it and wailed on it with my fists to finish it off.

With the Shadow Broker’s death, there is a sudden power vacuum. One which Liara quickly steps in and takes over. So now Shepard has the Shadow Broker on his side. Awesome.

The Mass Effect 2 Stupidity Award goes to the people behind Project Arrival. Earlier, this person assures Shepard that they have the Reaper artifact under control, that they know of the danger it poses, of indoctrination. And then? Shepard finds that they just keep the thing right out in the open.

By the way, I survived the ensuing fight scene. Had to do it a couple times, though.

Just because Bioware likes making the player feel like a bad person, it gives an exact count of the estimated deaths caused by completing Project Arrival. Makes that one assignment where Shepard needs to decide between saving a defense system or letting 300 people die seem trivial.

On completing Arrival, Shepard has a brief, if meaningless, conversation with Harbinger itself.

And we end on a massive explosion, as the asteroid destroys the Alpha Mass Relay, delaying the Reapers’ arrive by a couple years.

Mass Effect 2 Musings, Part 1

Mass Effect 2 has a depressing start. You are Shepard, savior of the galaxy. You are on a mission to stop the Reapers. And then your ship gets blown up and everybody scrambles to flee.

The coolest part about the Normandy being blown up is getting to walk around in the destruction. It’s really creepy, especially the part where you get to walk around without the roof over your head. Also, kind of beautiful in a spooky “this has gone horribly wrong” sort of way.

Normally it’s the captain who is the last to leave ship. However, in this case, it is the pilot who refuses to leave. I have to admire a person this dedicated. But where does the dedication end and the stupidity begin? Come on, Joker, I know you love the ship, but you can’t save it, man!

In an awesome display of the Collectors’ might, they finish off the Normandy in a bad-ass explosion. Goodbye Normandy.

Goodbye Shepard. Yep, Shepard dies, too. I’d like to say I didn’t see that coming, but one of my friends spoiled it for me. Still, I rank this with the nastier ways to go. Floating in space, quickly running out of oxygen, no hope of rescue.

But a little thing like death isn’t enough to stop Shepard! Six billion credits later, he’s good as new. Yes, six billion. Jon Shepard is the six billion credit man.

Time to put those credits to good use, too. The next part is an introduction to the game’s mechanics, which are an improvement over the first game.

Some people say that the first game was more of an RPG, but the second game feels more like an action game. I don’t think that’s a good way of looking at it. They both feel like action games to me; just the second one has a better combat system and less equipment. Heck, in a way it is even more of an RPG than the first game. I can actually equip different armor sets.

I like Jacob. He’s affable, has a good power set, and it’s clear he is only part of Cerebus because they serve his own well-meaning end.s

A friend of mine complained about the shield system because enemies cannot be affected by most bionic powers until their shields are down. In practice, I never found this to be a problem. Shields are easily destroyed and most bionic powers are “I Win” buttons.

I really don’t like Miranda. And it goes beyond just bitching about the game designers objectifying women (she even lampshades this).

It’s that she complains so much about her life. It’s so~ hard being perfect. Okay, yes, I get that she has a creepy father and that she felt pressure from being gene tailored for perfection. But she makes it sound like a horrible life. Meanwhile, other people have real problems. Some people aren’t quite so pretty, healthy, or intelligent. So, I just don’t feel much sympathy for her when she complains about how difficult it is to be perfect. It’s like a person who complains about how $20,000,000 isn’t really that much when you account for expenses; yes, that might be so, but it doesn’t elicit the same level of sympathy from me as somebody who is working poor.

Here is the Blood Dragon Armor I got from having an installation of Dragon Age. Dragon Age, although made by the same company, and bearing some similarities to Mass Effect never impressed me. It felt just above average.

The Illusive Man, played by Michael Sheen, has chilling robotic eyes. I assumed they were just replacements for eyeballs he lost in a war, but I read that in some book they reveal he got them from Reaper ruins. I read about that after beating ME2, so it did not influence my decisions. Anyway, what cacan I say about this guy? Polite, but all -business. Has his vices. An alienist who hides his agenda behind a thin veil of “advancing the human cause”. But, also, Shepard’s employer in the fight against the Collectors. He claims his interest is onlyin preserving humans against these aliens, but there has to be more, right?

The mission summary screens are sometimes interesting to read. The reports are written as the Illusive Man’s thoughts, giving a little insight into his analysis of every mission.

EDI is the new Normandy’s on-board AI. Despite sounding like the female equivalent of HAL, she is not actually evil. It seems. She has a dry sense of humor and I just realized that she competes with Joker for comic relief.

Fiiiiithos… Luuuuuuusec! Shepard looks really creepy in this picture; it looks like his eyes are glowing blue. It’s even creepier when you realize it is ostensibly from EDI’s perspective.

My first stop on the galaxy train is Omega, where I can recruit Garrus, Zaeed, and Mordin. This is Zaeed. He has an ugly mug but he’s earned every wrinkle on it from over 20 years of kicking ass. Both he and Kasumi, the other DLC character, have the coolest loyalty missions, but there is little to the characters beyond that. They don’t even have real conversations in the Normandy. They just share tidbits. Zaeed’s are the better of the two: he has some interesting war stories. He is also fun in combat: I prefer characters with sniper rifles because they can take out enemies without closing.

The hub of information in Omega is Club Afterlife. The coolest part is the entrance, which features these digital flames.

Aria runs Omega, and has for hundreds of years. She is one of my favorite NPCs because she radiates passive menace. Crossing Aria will get you killed. The only thing I can’t figure out: why doesn’t she sit in the VIP club? Maybe she likes leaving herself open to everybody.

I’m a bit embarrassed that I did not draw the conclusion that Archangel was Garrus. I just assumed that Archangel was the guy’s name. But the really funny part? I accidentally killed him the first time I did the event. The game hit some kind of scripting error and the door to his room wouldn’t open. So, I thought, well, hey, he has a health bar; maybe I’m supposed to shoot him. So, I did, and he died, and, game over. Next time, the scripting error was thankfully gone.

Anyway, what ensues is a moderately interesting fight where you hold position with Garrus against the hordes of three mercenary groups. They even send in a heavy mech and a gunship. The battle is won, but not without one casualty.

Garrus takes battle damage. He comes out looking a mite bit uglier. I’m not sure why the game designers did this. Maybe they just did it for fun.

I am amused that he keeps the same battle-damaged armor. Probably a mark of honor to him; proof of what he survived.

If you buy Doctor Chakwas a bottle of liquor at Afterlife, you get to learn more about her. It’s a casual, relaxed scene.

Some Salarians speak a little quickly. Mordin speaks extremely quickly. He even omits certain words. At first, this bothered me, but I got accustomed to his weird speech patterns. I even became fond of him as I learned more of his past and how guilt-ridden he is by some tough decisions he has made.

One of the DLCs lets Shepard revisit the crash site of the original Normandy. I didn’t really care for it, but maybe that is because I just played through the first game. I guess the DLC is meant to play off nostalgia.

By the way, the memorial looks lame; gaudy.

I don’t like Grunt. I get that he is struggling with being perfection (don’t we already deal with that enough with Miranda?), compounded by ignorance and constraints, but… I just do not really care for him. I would much rather have this guy in my party.

Zaeed’s loyalty mission starts out pretty well. Meet his enemy.

Set his enemy on fire.

Unfortunately, his enemy gets away somehow and the player must choose between pursuing the guy or continuing the original mission. I went with continuing the original mission. Sure, Zaeed had other plans but letting vengeance get in the way of a mission is bad protocol.

Unfortunately, this means that his enemy gets away.

More unfortunately, this really pisses off Zaeed.

Fortunately, a convenient girder of doom cuts off that debate. Shepard saves Zaeed, tells him to stop worrying about revenge, and they get along better than ever.

Kasumi is one of my favorite combat characters. Mainly for her sneak attack. Outside of combat, I don’t care much for her voice and, well, she does not have much of interest to say.

The advertisements on the Citadel are very amusing. This one is for a burial robe as Shepard is recently deceased. My favorite, however, is the advertisement for the edited version of the all-Elcor production of Hamlet.

By the way, I gave my advertising to only one of the shops. I went with the medical aid one.

The Citadel has a fun drinking sequence where Shepard gets introduced to a variety of liquors from across the galaxy and ends up on the floor. Also, notice the last picture. Either Shepard is hallucinating or the game had a glitch. Wouldn’t it be more fun if it was the former? Inebriation doesn’t last very long anyway; the real fun is the sequence itself.

Remember Khalisah al-Jilani? The reporter from the first game? So, yeah, she’s back, and here to make more insulting reports. I wish I hadn’t already known how this goes, but, well… I’ve had enough of her disingenuous assertions. Shepard is in so much trouble next game. With her. Maybe. He’s a freakin’ Spectre; I’m sure he will survive.

The Council is useless. I remember sacrificing a lot of human lives to save them in the first game. Yet, in the second game, they still are not taking Shepard very seriously. They are completely ignoring the Reaper threat, even after Sovereign had attacked the Citadel, instead calling it a Geth ship and saying they could not find any special parts. Just, wow, very frustrating. I had hoped that my choice in the first game would have mattered, made them more amenable to reason, but I guess I could have just done nothing to save them and the result would have been the same.

Jack is a sympathetic figure once you get to know her. Despite the picture to the contrary. Raised in a horrifying institution for biotic kids, she never had anything resembling a normal life. That explains why she is so unapproachable. At first, I thought her personality was interesting. But… eh, something started grating on me. Maybe I just don’t like going down into the creeper red boiler room.

When fighting the Collectors, Harbinger (a reaper) will sometimes “assume direct control” of a unit. This is followed by really creepy monologues like “You feel this, Shepard”.

The Rachni don’t do anything spectacular in ME2. However, there is this awesome scene I didn’t expect where an asari lets herself be possessed by the rachni queen to communicate a message, promising aid in the third game.

Oh, Conrad, what have you gotten yourself into? In the first game, a rabid fan named Conrad decides to follow in Shepard’s footsteps. If you are like me, you tried talking him out of it, and even succeeded. However, it seems he had a change of heart by the start of the second game. Actually, the game just has a glitch, so if you chose the paragon path, it did not recognize it. If you picked the renegade path, you have a slightly forced sequence where you have to cover Conrad’s ass and get him to give up pretending to be a soldier.

Now this is just weird. In the first game, you save an Asari from the Thorian. It had been producing green clones of her, but when she was rescued, she was a normal blue. Now she is green again, apparently some sickness from contact with the Thorian. It just feels a little forced.

There are a lot of cool party members in ME2, but Thane might be my favorite. He’s cool and his race is cool. The drell are like nothing I have ever seen before: their bodies and their minds/souls are not quite connected with each other. They are distinctly religious without it consuming their identity. They have a modestly interesting past and an interesting conflict for their current culture. Thane is an awesome assassin, graceful, and polite. He has a quiet dignity about his impending death and he is an excellent combatant. I take him on most of my missions.