10 Things we Want for Mass Effect 2
Bioware's epic science fiction RPG Mass Effect was released late last year on the Xbox 360 to massive critical acclaim and impressive sales. Its PC port, released several months ago, does justice to those gamers who held out on the console version and waited for their mouse-and-keyboard controls. But being the first part of a proclaimed trilogy, it's time to look forward to the sequel(s) and see where they could go and what they could do. How much should the game change with a coming sequel?
1. More great aliens. Sci-fi without some kind of strange, extraterrestrial (but also intelligent) life is usually hollow and lonely. That's fine if you're going for that kind of feel, which in the case of, say, the movie Solaris, works. But it just doesn't hold up for a big space opera game like Mass Effect. Give us lots of new characters, ones with deep histories that may take some work to get out of them. Be able to find more about their background either during missions or as a consequence of them. Give them funny lines often, and make sure that the voice actors that portray them can really put forth a full range of emotions. Interesting characters are at the heart of good sci-fi, not flashy special effects or space travel.
2. Larger weapon selection. It'd be nice to see weapons that truly acted differently. No matter what assault rifle you had, its firing rate was the same, it sounded exactly like the rest of them, and while some of them looked a bit different, you never got some kind of really mean-looking gun with its own sound effects and quirks. Unique mods and maybe a wider range of more exclusive mod slots could really be interesting, too; maybe some really powerful mods only work in sniper rifles, and maybe there's an assault rifle with low damage but four or five mod slots in it. Oh, also, maybe ditch the whole ranking of weapons in a line from one through ten. The weapon mods in the original Mass Effect change dramatically in later models and new lines open up near the end, and the weapons should do something like this too.
3. More tactical options. Bioware's gotta be careful not to get too complex here with convoluted command hierarchies, but it was nice to see the PC version of Mass Effect give players a few commands to issue your two squadmates. Sadly, it still didn't really work. One problem was that you couldn't order them to specific cover spots correctly since they'd both go to the same spot and one would often wind up exposed to enemy fire - this resulted in the player fiddling around with it long enough to have just run up and killed the enemies with the butt of a shotgun in the same amount of time. The biggest problem, though, is that the PC version's difficulty and gunfights were never rebalanced to need squad control. Maybe in the sequel, requiring more tactical control of your squadmates could be a part of the harder difficulty levels. Maybe even let the player be able to move away from Shepard and control the squadmates directly. It'd definitely change the way combat plays out.
4. Fill out those empty planets. So many of the planets we visited in the Mako were nearly-uninhabitable, rocky places with no indegenous life or even water around. Bioware did a fantastic job with great skies and ambience, but those little square explorable areas with maybe a few enemies outside, a compound of them inside, and then a few bits of loot and minerals dotting the landscape really got tiresome. Make these planets feel more like the real story ones, with NPCs around to give quests, a better sense of exploration and wonder, more than just flavor text to demonstrate the uniqueness of these planets, and more action. Let's visit a couple of the game's alien homeworlds, and maybe focus on more habitable planets this time. More really cool and interesting Prothean ruins would be great, too. Maybe even ruins of civilizations before even the Protheans, since the story does say that the cycle of destruction goes back further than 50,000 years and in the scope of the universe, that really isn't that long. And don't be afraid to kick the player out of the Mako for a while, either.
5. Fulfill the Mako's destiny. To some players, this vehicle was overused during the planetary expeditions and the lack of anything remotely like an RPG during these bits really dragged the game down. But if Bioware can add a lot of depth to using the Mako in the next game, I think it could become a vital part of the game. Maybe give it a rogue AI that's stuck in your Mako's onboard computer and trying to get out. Add new RPG-like depth by making it configurable with new armor plating, shielding or weapons. Allow it to improve along with you and your squad. There are a lot of ways to add some story and fun to those bits - assuming that Bioware doesn't scratch the idea of non-story planets to land on altogether.
6. A bit more non-linearity and impact to the story. Mass Effect was designed that on successive playthroughs, even if you did things totally differently and played the story planets in a new order, you still got almost all of the story and important dialogue. I'd love to see Mass Effect 2 add just a bit more permanence and consequence to the player's actions. Sure, keep giving us the options in some cases to choose who lives and who dies - that's a great part of many RPGs nowadays - but make it seem even more impactful and personal. Give us consequences that matter not just in the scope of the story, but ones that make a difference in combat.
7. More great voice actors. It was awesome hearing Seth Green as Joker and Lance Henriksen's gravelly voice as Admiral Hackett, and these are the kinds of roles we'd love to see more of. Mass Effect does include a very wide range of actors, unlike say, Oblivion, and it really adds to the immersive qualities of the game when you don't hear the same 15 voices everywhere. But give us more cameos and some more real drama from the Hollywood actors, especially the ones that are clearly capable of delivering it. You can't tell me John Goodman's deep voice wouldn't be great coming out of the scarred mouth of a new Krogan sidekick. Well, you could, but you'd be wrong.
8. Continue to rebel. With Mass Effect, Bio tried pretty hard to get away from their previous sci-fi series, the excellent Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. Without LucasArts looming over them, Bioware got to delve into more serious themes and mature looks at good and evil - compare those to the simplistic, over-the top turn of Anakin to the Dark Side in Star Wars episodes II and III. Bioware also didn't try to rip off the lightsabers, which were oh so important in making the combat of Knights look so great. All of this should continue and be built upon. Mass Effect sold enough copies: a new franchise was most definitely born, and Bioware is going to need a lot more creativity to keep gamers' interest.
9. Are we Shepard in the next game? I really enjoyed the character of Commander Shepard, although I found the female version (as done by the great voice actor Jennifer Hale) to be a bit more convincing in those high tension cutscenes. I'm a bit attached to Shepard's story, but it's actually possible that in Mass Effect 2 we simply won't be controlling him/her. There are a lot of interesting ideas one can come up with once we break free from the idea of Shepard having to still be the player character. Maybe Shepard joins your squad! It would be a little strange having it be a guy if you played Shepard as a woman in the first game, but hey, maybe the sequel could read one of your savegames from the first and fill out the gender, looks, and personality based on that.
10. Your enemy. The enemy that Shepard and crew will face in Mass Effect 2 is pretty much laid out for us by the end of the first game, and I'm sure that we'll get a new alien or human in there as some kind of new ally for the big impending doom force as well. Saren worked well in the first game, but there wasn't enough of him. It was interesting that his motivations and logic behind his actions seemed to actually make some sense; he wasn't just some genius madman bent on galactic domination just because he was crazy and that was fun to him. We need more of that original, unique villain that has a believable endgame beyond just destroying the universe. We need another villain we can really sink our teeth into, one whose actions and reasoning keep us thinking and aren't just bad behavior pulled from a cheap comic book. I'm sure Bioware knows this too, but hey, Malak from KOTOR was admittedly pretty one-dimensional.
So there you have it, folks - after hundreds of hours and quite a few completions of Mass Effect by the AtomicGamer staff and friends, this is a list of what we hope Bioware considers in order to keep the sequel on track. Looking at their history of having made quality games ever since their inception, we know it's in good hands. And with the announcement of Bioware's MMO The Old Republic, we'll see a return to their first sci-fi franchise as well. Life is good for fans of both sci-fi and Bioware. All that's left is for someone to announce a Battlestar Galactica RPG that takes place during the first Cylon War!