I’d Rather You Didn’t Play ME2 Without Mass Effect
I had a cringe-worthy conversation the other day with my best friend, a casual gamer who has been out of the scene for a while, about Mass Effect 2. Warning: from here on out, there are some spoilers for Mass Effect 2 and a ton for Mass Effect 1.
Nick just got a ridiculous entertainment setup going, and to cap it off, received a Playstation 3 for the holidays for its Blu-Ray/gaming capabilities. He’s extremely happy with it, it seems, and we spent the better portion of one whole night getting our asses handed to us in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, his first Playstation Network purchase.
Now that he’s the proud owner of a working game console again, he’s been on the prowl for games. Excited because it was finally getting ported, I quickly suggested Mass Effect 2.
About a week later, it arrived care of Amazon.com. A few days later, Nick was asking me questions about the game. He was at Omega Station, dealing with the Archangel recruitment mission. As we got to talking, he started asking me about my choices from Mass Effect 1 via IM.
“Who’d you let die?” he asked me.
A short pause. “I don’t know who that is.”
“I’m doing that thing with the guy who keeps fighting the gangs,” Nick told me.
“Yeah, that was cool,” I returned.
“The guy they’re trying to kill — it’s that one guy,” he went on.
“Garrus,” I returned, and considered ending the conversation right there, realizing that it was a struggle to even talk about Mass Effect with someone whose experience was so vastly different from mine.
I don’t blame Nick, and I’m happy for him to be able to enter into the world of one of the strongest series available in video games as far as story is concerned. But given the choice…yeah, I’d rather he didn’t play Mass Effect 2 at all than play it on the PS3, with no real understanding of the game that preceded it. I’m starting to feel like his experience has been ruined.
A little background: Mass Effect 2 is shaped in some very real ways by the choices the player makes in the first game. Rather than just make a bunch of choices on the character’s behalf, Bioware has opted to release a narrated, interactive comic as a download for PS3 players who have no Mass Effect background. That way, they can get some semblance of backstory while meeting the relevant characters and making the relevant choices. The problem, however, is that it’s totally awful.
In my experience with Mass Effect, the characters and the choices I had to make in relation to them were profound. Choosing who to send back the nuke on Virmire was a really big, important moment, one that had rippling consequences throughout my game experience, even long into Mass Effect 2. It was the culmination of hours of playing with various teammates, speaking with them repeatedly, and having an understanding of who they were as people.
Nick’s build-up to the decision on Virmire lasted roughly four minutes. He couldn’t even remember who the second choice was. It’s not his fault (nor is it the PS3 version of ME2′s, and this is not me hating on Sony), but his understanding of the game and mine are radically different.
So much of Mass Effect 2 has to be sort of bland or underwhelming to someone who has no background Mass Effect whatsoever. We talked at length about the genophage (a huge portion of the world backstory in ME1) and several other major components of the game, as well as the characters. The comic gives you no understanding of Garrus’ law-and-order Dirty Harry style of dealing with criminals. It totally skips on Liara’s scientist background, so meeting her in ME2, when she’s a lot more mercenary, is far less effective. When you eventually encounter Wrex in ME2 on PS3, you’re approaching the interaction with having been given the choice to “kill Wrex” or “save Wrex.”
Given those two, who would choose just to kill him (except for just s–ts and giggles), and what weight does such a choice carry with the game?
I’ll try to stop belaboring the point: it’s a bummer. It’s a bummer that a game that has a big impact on me and lots of other players, even drawing me so far as to purchase the novels related to the backstory and all the DLC I can get my hands on, is reduced to footnotes and cold calculations, rather than being an emotive and enthralling experience.
After I finished a run through the comic intro on my own to see what it was like, making all the choices I had in my initial runthrough of Mass Effect, Nick turned to me and said, “Wow — your choices were almost the exact opposite of mine.” And not that my choices are more correct than his or anyone else’s, but I couldn’t help but think that his choices and mine were fundamentally different because our understanding of the story was so different.
I chose Anderson over Udina, after having interacted with both men repeatedly; Nick chose Udina after hearing a short summary of why each man would be good for the council job. I saved the Citadel Council because I believed humanity could benefit more from being selfless than selfish after spending tens of hours with my loyal, mixed-species team; Nick chose based on narration from Commander Shepherd that I don’t think really gave him the compelling opposing option of propelling humanity to a place of prominence in the galaxy.
It comes down to a matter of information — Mass Effect informs so many of these decisions in so many ways, and yet Mass Effect 2 players with no background are forced to make them after a five-minute synopsis. So I’m trying to be diplomatic, but I feel bad for my friend because I don’t think Mass Effect will ever have the weight for him that it does for me, unless he’s somehow able to get hold of the first game and an Xbox 360 and the free time to enjoy both (a situation I’m attempting to facilitate). That’s a real disappointment for me — his re-entry into video games with 2010′s finest will never quite become the immersive world it should have been, and it feels like he’s being robbed, at least a little, of something amazing.
I wish I’d known before what I know now, so I could have told him: I’d rather you don’t play Mass Effect 2. It just kind of ruins it.