Because I tried to please everyone, my Commander Shepard didn't get laid the first time I played Mass Effect 2. Because BioWare tried to please everyone, Mass Effect 2 could be our Game of the Year.
It was a ridiculous idea, or so I first thought. Trading BioWare's tried and true semi-turn-based role-playing combat system for an action-driven third-person shooter engine seemed like a recipe for disaster. In my experience, marrying two diverse genre styles into a single title only serves to dilute the overall experience.
In Mass Effect 2's case, however, both were strengthened by the marriage.
Mass Effect 2 is a third-person shooter that allows the player to choose their own path. Rather than progress through a series of chapters, players are free to choose where to fight, how to fight, and can even choose to avoid some conflicts altogether. This is all done without sacrificing story or character, making it one of the richest third-person shooters ever created.
Mass Effect 2 is an action role-playing game featuring an all-new sort of action. It replaces the pause button with a cover mechanic, allowing for strategic planning without losing the urgency of the situation. Complex mechanics from the first game have been streamlined. Equipment is upgraded instead of left cluttering your inventory. The end result is one of the most accessible action role-playing games ever created.
It's almost two Games of the Year in one!
Those dual accomplishments would mean nothing if not for BioWare's storytelling and character development expertise. Once again we're introduced to a selection of highly compelling characters. We're given a chance to explore their lives, learn about their origins, their hopes, and their dreams, driven by the knowledge that we're gearing up to embark on a suicide mission that not everyone will survive, and the choices we make as players will ultimately decide the final fate these unique individuals.
I tried my best to please them all, and in the end alienated everyone. I fared much better during my second and third tries.
For me that's the true appeal of Mass Effect 2. Every game is different, and the experience I have isn't the same experience everyone else at Kotaku will have. Hopefully their experience will be satisfying enough for them to agree with me that Mass Effect 2 deserves to be 2010's Game of the Year.
Stephen Totilo's Reply
Fahey, the colorful ally characters in Mass Effect 2 are some fascinating folk. But they don't star in the Game of the Year. I do like them, but their side-missions are so much more interesting and memorable than the game's main adventure.
I agree with you that much of Mass Effect 1 had been improved for Mass Effect 2, but the series needs another upgrade. BioWare fixed the inventory, but the game's large Normandy space-ship — its home base — is still a time-sink of momentum-killing design. Mining's a chore. Interstellar travel is still too pokey. There's too much dull stuff required for me to get to the fun.
I have high hopes that Mass Effect 3 can be 2011's Game of the Year, given how much Mass 2 improved upon Mass 1. But play Lair of the Shadowbroker, the Mass 2 downloadable expansion, to see how fun, interesting, well-written, well-paced and visually striking a Mass Effect without the bad parts can be. Here's to Mass Effect 3...
Michael McWhertor's Reply
Thank you, BioWare, for catering to people like me, video game players who prefer their role-playing games to do unusual things like attach themselves to a third-person shooter. But Stephen's right, for all of BioWare's smart streamlining, Mass Effect 2's tedium can stall this experience.
And that's the most unkind thing I can say about this game, for its characters, its drama and its transformation toward a more palatable form are great successes.
I'll concede that this is a more gorgeously designed game, from an artistic visual standpoint, than my pick for game of the year. As much as I love the soothing vistas and big sky of the Wild West, BioWare deserves praise for crafting beautiful and horrifying alien species, for stylishly decorating this universe to make it look like nothing else.
Though I appreciate Mass Effect 2's evolution and its visual accomplishments, it did not emotionally engage me as expertly as some of its game of the year competitors. But, boy, did it come close.
Luke Plunkett's Reply
Good God I loved this game. Yeah, it had the same old BioWare problems - namely "empty" worlds and tedious quests - but you know what, I could bear that and then some for the payoff.
And that payoff was an interactive space opera of my very own.
By the game's finale, so invested had I become in the decisions I had made and the Shepard I had become that I felt like my Mass Effect universe was the only Mass Effect universe. Everybody else's was just...wrong. Fluff. An imposter.
I came very close to putting this game forward as my pick for the year, but in the end, the repetitiveness of the missions and a disastrous final boss mean it's going to have to settle for being my second-favourite game of the year.
Brian Ashcraft's Reply
Mass Effect 2 is a great game, far superior to its predecessor in every way. What's more, it's a ballsy game that has players spend the vast majority of it assembling a team that might or might not even make it through the final fight with knowing flourishes, such as allowing players to take control of a non-player character in what results in a heart-pounding sequence or mix in a tower defense game with a shootout. The only problem? Three words: Red Dead Redemption.
Mass Effect 2, as slick and as polished as it is, didn't quite connect with me the same way. That sounds like a cop out, but it's not. Mass Effect 2 is not a bad game, it's a wonderful game. So tearing down here does it a disservice. It, however, is not as good as Red Dead Redemption. Any other year, this would be my Game of the Year. But not in 2010.
Owen Good's Reply
It's interesting that a sports game was quickly shot down because it depended so much on prior knowledge outside of the video game or exposure to previous editions, but that complaint goes unmentioned here, for a sequel building on an enormous continuity.
Mass Effect 2 tells an eminently rich and well written story. But everything said here assumes you've completed the first Mass Effect. I sheepishly raise my hand to say I haven't. It's in my pile of shame along with many other great games. Totilo and McWhertor point out the tedium found in this game. Those without a sturdy anchor in the first Mass Effect find that compounded by the necessity to page through every codex entry in order to be an informed citizen of this galaxy - and play his role well.
Fahey's right that this is almost two Games of the Year in one. The first is the original Mass Effect, released in 2008. We're choosing 2010's.
Brian Crecente's Reply
I too was delighted at how well BioWare blended the story telling of role-playing games with the solid mechanics of a third-person shooter. And as Kotaku's biggest shooter fan I can say the change helped make Mass Effect 2 the sort of game I'd love to play.
But those long stretches between fights, the tedium of space travel and mining, the drudgery of menial tasks far outweighed this new mechanic. Role-playing games in general, I think, rely a bit too heavily on the gamer's willingness to completely drop into the experience, to devote vast amounts of times on the little things, like getting from point A to point B, or having endless, awkward conversations.
More bothersome, though, is how little real choice you seem to have in the mundane bits of Mass Effect 2. Often conversations linger until you ask every question. Finding the game's inevitable key moments, the triggers for the big events and confrontations in Mass Effect 2 that everyone discovers no matter their choices, means wandering around, having little conversations, picking away at the interactions until you stumble upon something interesting. The end result is a gem of a game nearly drowning in itself.
And somehow despite all of the running around, the travel, the conversations, the story and the characters that drive it still ends up feeling shallow.
Where Red Dead Redemption kept me occupied and intrigued with it constant, plot-slowing diversions, Mass Effect 2 just annoyed me.
Commander Mike Fahey's Rebuttal
One day a video game will make the process of mining for ore in deep space more exciting than it is in games like EVE Online and Mass Effect 2, and that game will be game of the year.
Most of you found the mining tedious. I can understand that. It wasn't in-your-face action. It also wasn't mandatory, like many of the side missions in the game. And even these more "tedious" moments in the game fit in with the final goal of building up a team and the resources necessary to make a suicide mission slightly less suicidal. It's not like I was stopping to play horseshoes while a corrupt government was keeping me from my family or anything.
Owen cites the game's reliance on events established in the first Mass Effect as a major shortcoming, but I still feel the sequel contained enough reference materials to stand on its own.
As for Crecente, I'm not sure what game he was playing. I found objectives and directives quite clear in my multiple play throughs, experiencing none of the aimless wandering he describes.
My opinion remains un-swayed. As a shooter, I prefer Mass Effect 2 over Call of Duty: Black Ops. As an epic adventure, I prefer Mass Effect 2 over Red Dead Redemption. And while Mass Effect 2 may never be the basketball game that NBA 2K11 is, Commander Shepard and two friends could still take Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls in a firefight.
This is the last of four debates surrounding our final choice for 2010's game of the year. All four will run this week. The winner will be announced Monday.