Thursday, September 29, 2011

Finishing Mass Effect 2

You know, there was once upon a time when stores like Game Stop, where you could sell your old video games or trade them in for new or other used games, made no sense to me whatsoever. I mean, don't get me wrong, I've always understood the point behind places like Half-Price Books, which is essentially the same thing, in book form. It is just that I could never figure out how a trade-in video game place could do such a brisk business. I didn't understand how enough people were bringing in enough relatively new used games for the model to be sustainable--because unlike books, video games do have a shelf life. Consoles weren't always backwards compatible, you know.

This is because I didn't know until high school that there was such a thing as "beating" a video game. Even then it was only a barely conceived realization. I remember one time in eighth or ninth grade I spent an entire holiday weekend holed up in my room playing Super Mario 3, and trust me, I never even came close to beating that game. I didn't finish an entire video game until I was well out of college, people. Sure, part of that is due to the fact that after eighth or ninth grade I didn't play any video games until after college, but still.

Now, however, I totally get it. Some games are fun enough to play through once, but after you've finished you know you're not gonna really want to play it again. Some games *cough*KingdomHearts*cough* become your white whale, and once you finally beat them, you just want to shove them across the counter, get your in-store credit, and get on with your life. So the games that you end up actually holding on to are the games that you want to play again. For a game to fall into that category it needs to either have a really fun and engaging gameplay mechanic or it needs to have a fantastic story. Preferably, it should have both.

Mass Effect 2 is definitely one of those games to keep and replay. It has an engaging gameplay experience and an outstanding story, making it full of awesome and win. It is also very replayable, because there are numerous variables that can alter your experience with the game, and make sure that every time you play is a little bit different. Some of of those variables might be the choices made from your imported play of the first game (or the backstory choices you make when you start the game if you didn't play the first one), the background, class, gender, and skills you choose for your character. There are many different romance options for your Commander Shepard. The order in which you carry out Shepard's missions comes into play as well. There is also the choice to play the game as a paragon (good guy) or renegade (self-explanatory), which will affect your interactions with others throughout the game.

Then, of course, there is the game's final mission.


The first time I played through Mass Effect 2 I went straight through the Omega 4 relay once my crew was abducted by the collectors. My team and I went in there and rescued them all, kicked the bad guy's butt, and went home, every single one of us. I thought nothing of it at the time and was just happy to have completed the game and pretty satisfied with the story. I moved on to play Dragon Age: Origins, and  well, you know what happened to me after that

Then my husband played Mass Effect 2.

We share an office, my husband and I, and one of our favorite things to do of an evening is to hang out in the office and play our games "together," by which I mean, he sits on his computer and plays his game and I sit on my computer and play my totally different game, and we snark back and forth with each other commenting on what we hear coming from the other person's monitor. What? Don't look at me like that. It's fun. Anyhoo, point being that I was more or less following along with his playthroughs of Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2. I had actually gotten him the first game as a Christmas present the year before our daughter was born, but somehow I ended up playing it first and getting hooked (I think because I found out Seth Green did a voice in the game). I was really excited that he was finally getting the chance to play it, partly because I wanted him to experience the awesomeness, but also because it afforded me the chance to see how the game was different through his playing style as compared to mine. For example, I was delighted when he opted to romance Tali in the second game, an option not available to my female Shepard. 

I was in the office when he went through the Omega 4 relay and embarked on the final mission of the game. I was only half paying attention to what he was doing and looked over at a sound of dismay, appalled to see Garrus dead, actually, permanently, in-game dead. "What did you do?!?" I asked him in shock. He shrugged that he didn't know and kept on playing. I watched in horror as more members of his team kept dropping, dying permanently, including beloved Tali. Again, I asked, "What did you do?" I couldn't believe it. (He wasn't too happy about it either.)

It turns out that, unless you cheat use a walkthrough or hints, the odds of your entire crew and team surviving the final mission on your first playthrough are pretty darn slim. There's a whole series of variables you have to do correctly to make that happen. You can't traipse across the galaxy after your crew gets abducted, for example, and expect them to survive to be rescued. If you go on one or two missions before going through the Omega 4, half of them die (one of your buddies gets dissolved into goo right in front of you just as you arrive to save them). If you go on more missions than that, the doctor is the only one left to be rescued. Your entire party has to be loyal (you get missions throughout the game to complete to earn each character's loyalty). Anyone not loyal is pretty much just so much cannon fodder. You have to have installed all of the available upgrades to your ship, or people don't make it. Finally, at each step of the final mission, you have to choose wisely when assigning your party to do the various tasks required to infiltrate the collectors' base. Looking at the list of things required to ensure complete survival can be more than a little bit daunting. My husband was pretty impressed I had managed it on my first try pretty much by accident after we found out what the deal was. Hell, if enough of your party gets killed off, Shepard doesn't survive the final mission at all. 

This is the kind of thing that makes this game one you will want to play multiple times though. There are just so many ways the final moments can play out.

I can't imagine why anyone would keep a playthrough where they lost party members to port into Mass Effect 3 (my husband fully intends to go back to an earlier save and replay that part of the game and see if he can have a happier outcome). But if they do, then anyone who died won't be available in game three. At all. Yeesh.

Knowing all of this made me really nervous when I approached the Omega 4 mission the second time around. All of a sudden, I was paranoid as hell that I wouldn't be able to finish everyone's loyalty missions before the crew got abducted. I was worried I would choose totally the wrong person for one of the assignments on the collector base, and so on. It is possible I had a guide pulled up on iPad so that I could check it, just in case, while I was playing the final mission. It is also possible that I might have used it once or twice, and was relieved to find out that my instinctual choice for each mission had been a good one. In the end, I managed to rescue my whole crew and my entire team walked (well, ran) out of that base alive. Then I got to tell the Illusive Man to shove it. I texted my husband in my excitement and there may have been a celebratory fist pump or two into the air. Good times were had by all.

Then I moved on to play Dragon Age: Origins again...

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