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.

“Alenko.”

A short pause. “I don’t know who that is.”

I sighed.

“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.

I sighed.

“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.

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5 Comments on I’d Rather You Didn’t Play ME2 Without Mass Effect

Steve

On February 16, 2011 at 5:09 pm

While I consider myself a pretty big Mass Effect geek, I still side with the opinion that you really don’t need to play ME to enjoy ME2. In fact, this was one of those mental notes (moreso a checklist) I made on my first playthrough of ME2.

Sure there are some details that one might be missing out; however, after sitting back and evaluating both as whole, the tie-ins amount to a hill a beans. They really don’t “push” the ME2 plot at all, and realistically are reduced to nothing but mere filler. Major ME characters such as Urdnot Wrex and David Anderson are nothing but mere cameos and shoved in the background in ME2. Seriously, when you think about it, most of the returning cast serve no purpose in ME2 other than to say “Hi!”. No wonder the first thing they do in ME2 is try to kill you off. It’s like they (Bioware) wanted to subliminally tell you “pssst. Hey. We’re starting from scratch here… sort of.”

Liara’s appearance in ME2 was like some lame joke until they rolled out the Shadow Broker DLC. And even then, after wading through the hype, it still didn’t leave an imprint on me as much as Samara & Morinth questline.

Ironically, every ME playthrough I have sent Kaidan to his death. Why? Probably because I think Ashley’s hot (and partly because my female Shepard always wants get it on with her). And what did all that effort into building a relationship with her amount to in ME2? A 30 min rescue mission with a y “f*ck you, Shepard” gratitude as a reward. Yeah, Ashley’s the poster-child for useless characters in ME2. I wish had the option to kill them both at that point.

Tali and Mordin probably had the largest game-time of all the returning ME characters. But when you think about it, they really didn’t explore them all that well in ME anyway. So I will concede here that ME2 did flesh their backstory out a little more. These are the best characters to reinforce an argument for one to play ME. Even still, I think one could gather what the genophage was despite having no ME background just from the ME2 in-game literature (or just do what the kids do these days and wiki it). The ME2 Mordin & Grunt storylines pretty much cover the genophage, if a bit roughly. However, I feel Tali’s introduction is best found in ME.

The only other major reason I can think of to commit to playing ME is the Citadel itself. I was amazed at how minor a location it was in ME2. It’s ironic how the entire plot of ME revolves around it, yet in ME2, it’s just another rest-stop. I mean, really. The best part of ME was the Citadel. In ME2, going to the Citadel is like going to Disney World and the doors are closed. The variety of different places in ME2 made up for that somewhat, but still…

In any event, other than a handful of character-fleshing details that ultimately do nothing for the game’s plot, I still can’t see ME playthrough being a requirement for ME2 (surely Kaiden doesn’t offer THAT much more than Ashely). If this was intentional, then Bioware did a good job of separating the two. Other sequential epic video game series take note… *cough* MGS *cough*.

Phil Hornshaw

On February 16, 2011 at 5:32 pm

@Steve
I agree with…basically everything you said, in a piecemeal sense. Meeting up with Ashley again was tough, as was Liara until the DLC. Everything to do with Tali I enjoyed quite a bit, but she was underplayed in Mass Effect.

But there’s something about it taken together, as an experience and a primer for the (often better) story of ME2. Ashley bailing is crappy, but then again, it’s an outgrowth of her character. Tali’s maturity level (and subsequent availablilty as a love interest) were very interesting. Garrus going full Dirty Harry without Paragon Shepherd to reign him in. Wrex returning to Krogan to become a leader of his people. Wiki-ing the genophage is one thing — having a trusted ally threaten to kill you over it in one game and then ally yourself with its creator in the next is quite another. That’s what playing Mass Effect 1 gives you. It lets you see the growth in the characters and the universe, in all respects. Mass Effect is at its best when it’s being huge and alive and feeling like a real place, to a degree. Without ME1, ME2 is just another game about space and fighting evil. Put the two together and they become something more. At least for me, anyway.

Logan

On February 16, 2011 at 5:56 pm

I would like to add this to the discussion.

I was just thinking about the good old days when Mass Effect was a Xbox 360 exclusive. I have nothing against the PS3 but it just seems like ME2 being on the PS3 will hurt ME3 for xbox 360 users.

Why? you ask. Becasue ME1 was a xbox exclusive right? so how can the decisions from that game effect ME3 when the PS3 dosent have that game?I know they had a comic thing to make some decisions but wasnt there like 700 decisions or something.

So what im trying to say is.

Why release ME2 on the PS3 when its going to make so many problems for both consoles?

I just feel like no matter what ME3 will never be what it could have been if it was a 360 exclusive

Sorry if this issue has already been talked about.

And I am in no way a Xbox 360 fanboy. I think all consoles are great

Vuuga

On February 17, 2011 at 2:05 am

I Think ME1 Not X Box 360 Only
Release In PC Too,with Improve layout Or System

Shep

On April 3, 2011 at 12:14 pm

I agree with you completely. I played ME2 after
having played ME twice. I think ME2 on its own
isn’t even remotely as deep for the player.
It is a good game, but it isn’t totally standalone.
Also ME is xbox/PC, not exclusive.