Mass Effect 2 ("Guns and conversations")

I recently played through Mass Effect 2. It was the first time I played an RPG, or a “guns and conversations” game, as the writers of RPS call this genre. I found it interesting that I liked the game a lot more than I expected, because most of the game’s selling point’s don’t really appeal to me.

Shooting. I don’t play that much at all, in fact this is the first cover shooter I’ve played at all (unless you count XCOM), so I chose the easiest difficulty setting, and didn’t mind that part of the game.

Branching plot and choices. This is the big thing - I usually avoid those games, because I don’t mind games being linear, and haven’t even understood the appeal of branching plots before. (Why should I be excited about the fact that I’ll be locked out from parts of the game as I play? Slouching towards Bedlam is the only previous game I can think of I’ve played where I didn’t mind that. I’ve avoided most such games.) I don’t know how open the game really is*, but I enjoyed the experience. These were probably the most real characters I’ve met in a game.

  • And I’m not going to explore it to find out. I’m not interested in trying it again with a different commander Shepard. I’ve been through the story of Jane Shepard, and don’t want it with a John or a different Jane. I failed one mission where I was to help the son of one of my crew, but I didn’t reload and try again (even though that mission was different from everything else in the game, and a bit interesting). It felt right to accept the loss and move on, even though I knew that it could have ended better if I’d just…

That was a new experience for me, and I will play the sequel eventually. But not too soon. I’ll give this experience time to settle first.

Did you enjoy it despite the branching, or because of it?

I find it interesting that someone would prefer interactivity without branching; I think it touches on the very essence of what it means to be “interactive.”

To be interactive, the game has to do something specific/appropriate to the player’s behavior; if everybody gets the same experience every time they play, then it’s “not really interactive.” But if everybody gets a different experience, then they’re being “locked out” from the experiences they didn’t have as they play.

Puzzle/skill-based games have an another approach to interactivity: the game/environment is responsive, but you have to solve the puzzle or beat the boss to progress. Otherwise, the story ends immediately (e.g. in death) or you just get stuck. The responsive part is the experience of failing to solve the puzzle, failing to beat the level, which is hopefully as enjoyable and encouraging as possible, despite being part of a dead-end plot line.

How would you feel if the game were being improvised by a team of designers as you play, like a high budget D&D game? As they improvise a story in response to your choices, are you being “locked out” of other stories they didn’t improvise for you? What if you didn’t know whether the game were being improvised or whether someone had planned it ahead of time?

I agree with Trumgottist about the branching, except in three situations: 1) if it’s something like Slouching towards Bedlam or Galatea, where the point is to make different choices to make it come out differently, 2) if the branches diverge completely and (almost) never reconnect, as in older CYOA gamebooks, so it’s really a different story every time, or 3) if the goal is to get a specific ending, as in All Things Devours, and all the others are considered failure by the puzzle.

If it were being improvised by a GM as I played, or if I didn’t know it was planned in advance, the big difference would be the expectations. In a video game advertised as having a branching narrative, the expectation is that you are going to play parts of it again to see what is different (which in many cases is not much, the exceptions above notwithstanding). But when I’m running a D&D adventure, the branches the players don’t choose don’t exist. If they wanted to go back and make a different choice, it would be pretty much the same as starting a new adventure; it wouldn’t go back into the story they had already played.

Disclaimer: I haven’t played any of the Mass Effect games, so this may not apply to them specifically.

That’s a good question, and to my surprise I think the answer is that it probably added to the experience. I haven’t quite figured out why. As I’ve mostly avoided these kinds of games, I don’t have many to compare to. (Suggestions welcome, both IF and AAA games and everything in between.)

Sure, but I don’t mind “not really interactive”. Most of my favourite games are still completely linear (if we discount things like three trials that can be done in any order). Grim Fandango: The Movie or Augmented Fourth: The Book wouldn’t have been the same thing. I like “not really interactive” interactivity. :wink:

Interesting view. I’ve never seen it like that. I’ve usually not counted the failing part. Like Telltale’s The Walking Dead, which are minimal in the branching and designed so that people shouldn’t get stuck (much).

Have never played any D&D, but I get your point. And that may well be the clue to why ME2 worked for me. It didn’t feel so much like “choose path A or B”, but more organic. Like their goal was somewhere in the direction of your improv session.

That’s a good point. Something like Slouching is a different kind of beast, but for me ME2 was more like your D&D adventure. I don’t have any urge to explore the unchosen paths. (Other players probably feel different.)

I wonder how different it’d have felt if it had been linear. Without the choices, or the choices all being tricks and illusions. I strongly suspect it wouldn’t have been as good. (Which once again is something I’d never thought I’d write.)

A suggestion if you’ve not played it: One of my favorite RPGs was FALLOUT 3. It satisfied a lot of “explore and loot” itch, and the combat can be paused at any time for you to plan your attacks, so it can be played in an almost turn-based fashion. There’s lots and lots of content, intertwining quests and story lines, and a range of evil and good choices that mostly effects how you are treated in the world and what options you have to accomplish tasks. It’s also a largely refreshing change from the sword and sorcery and high space opera genres with it’s retro-futuristic “advanced 1950’s technology” styling.

This is where I point sideways to jmac’s recent essay on Walking Dead/Wolf Among Us:

I haven’t played them, so I won’t comment myself… except to say that this sort of discussion always seems to boil down to a bunch of people pointing at game elements and saying “This bit of game mechanics that the player can interact with isn’t real interactivity.” And if the game doesn’t have the kind of interactivity I like, the entire game is not interactive.

I don’t mean to say that Trumgottist or Draconis or any of you are being lazy in your analysis in this thread. Going into details is good. But saying “not really interactive” is, in my experience, a dangerous shortcut. Especially if you say it about a game, rather than a game mechanic. It should always bring up the question of what parts of the game you’re not mentioning at all.

To be reductive in the other direction: no two people’s experiences of any game are ever the same, because their asses are planted in different chairs, in different parts of the world, being interrupted by different meals / crying babies / presumptuous cats. But this doesn’t give us much useful insight into what interactivity means.

You played ME2 without playing ME1 first?

Why would you do that to yourself :stuck_out_tongue:

I feel a bit awkward bringing it up, but, ah, you know, we have built an entire company around selling long-form branching IF over at Choice of Games. :slight_smile:

(Probably Choice of the Deathless has been best-liked among the IF community. We also have free games, of which Choice of Broadsides has been well received.)

(edit: I’ve even caved in and set up a signature.)

I was curious of the genre, but didn’t expect to like the game as much as I did. I thought I’d only play one game, and so I got ME2 cheap in a Steam sale and skipped the first game because I’d heard that the combat was much improved in the sequel.

ME 2 is my least favourite of the series, ME 3 being the best. If you went on to the third game you wouldn’t be able to get make all the ‘best possible choices’ because you need to have played from the first game for that. I wonder if that would actually heighten some of the choices that you would be presented with, if the win-win options are removed?

What makes it your least favourite?

A whole bunch of factors. The gameplay is less refined, but perhaps the main thing is I disliked the loyalty missions structure. And the third game (up until the very controversial ending) is just so excellent! To the extent I’m considering buying their ridiculously overpriced DLCs.

Even though I play action games, I wasn’t really interested in the combat in any of the Mass Effect games. It’s the story that makes these games great. Actually not just the story, but the whole “feel” of it (story, setting, graphics, sound/music, voice acting, animations and the whole presentation.) I can’t remember any other game I’ve played that does all those things so well (maybe Dragon Age comes somewhat close; and as it happens, that’s also a Bioware title.)

Playing ME1 is really a must, especially since your savegame is loaded by ME2 in order to keep all your decisions you made. For example if you helped some people but made enemies of others or even killed some people in ME1, then this will carry over to ME2. Same goes for ME3; everything you did in ME2 will be carried over.

Since you played ME2 without having finished ME1, those decisions have been predetermined and you didn’t get to have a say in it.

But maybe more importantly, not playing ME1 first results in less investment in the characters, as you don’t get to experience any of their development, and how things got to where they are now.

I understand that, but I still got a good sense of history between some characters. (Shephard and Tali in particular. I never felt that I got to know the tall sniper whose name I can’t recall “G…” though.) If I’d suspected that it’d be this good, I would have started from the beginning. (I usually make a point of reading even loosely connected books in the right order.)

Agree completely about the feel of it.

You can still play ME1 before ME3. Even though some of the mystery will be gone (since you now obviously know who the reapers are,) it’s still worth it.