Sunday, 14 March 2010

Lets talk game development. Mass Effect 2's Suicide Mission


Spoilers Ahoy, though not too many.

Lets clear the air and let me just say that I thought Mass Effect 2 was a fantastic game, and easily comes close to being what I consider one of the best Sci-Fi games of all time. To a degree I feel that Mass Effect was better in terms of storyline and pacing but Mass Effect 2 makes up for this by having some of the best characterization ever seen in a game.

So what's todays entry about? Well I had also played the equally fantastic Dragon Age: Origins and when comparing the romance options between the two games It seemed to me that Mass Effect manages to pull it off better because there's far less number crunching, In Mass Effect forming a romance Is simply down to saying the right thing at the right time and Its fairly obvious when it is, and If you want to call it off at any time, you can, then In due course sexytime is offered up at a set point.

Dragon Age's romances however depends on an approval system and bringing up the right topic of conversation. In my first playthrough one character was deeply in love with mine but couldn't “seal the deal” because I didn't unlock the right side quest by picking a conversation option I wasn't really Interested in. In my second playthrough my character was a complete sociopathic bastard who hated everyone, yet somehow unbeknown to me had initiated a romance with the same character from my first playthough.

So what's this got to do with ME2's suicide mission then? Well, while I feel it does the romance well, I think its 'anyone can die' system had the number crunching problem from Dragon Age, but rather than make it too hard, it made it too easy, my main gripes were:

That if characters were not loyal they'd still throw their lives away to save you at some points. why?

That it was far too easy to save most of the characters anyway, it was simply down to doing side quests and buying the right upgrade, and picking your specialists was as easy as pie.

That when a character did die it was all like 'oh and he's dead' and then you move on, and finish the game, and they appear in some coffins for about two seconds, most of these characters are much loved by the time you finish the game, they deserve better.

The “No One Left Behind” achievement made it feel like you're a looser for not saving everyone

Now I'm no game designer but Neverwinter Nights 2 and Dragon Age both did the same thing with the 'anyone can die' by and large, so going by my experience of RPG's here's how I would have liked to have seen it done:


Part 1: Early Game

The way I see it, choices made early in the game should have a great impact on the outcome. A good example of this is how early on I did Zaeed's loyalty mission, chose to save some innocents rather than help him get his revenge and as a result didn't gain his loyalty, however if my Paragon stats were higher I could have talked him round anyway, which annoyed me, had I done the mission later, he would have survived. Also I fully expected him to betray me at some point, Instead he threw his life away to save the Normandy crew... wat?


Neverwinter Nights 2 and Dragon Age did this better but still with the number crunching approval system. At points in both games if you'd not done enough to get reasonable approval off the characters, they'd turn against you. In Mass Effect 2 there should be no going back once you've made your decision, there shouldn't be the option to talk them round (not based on stats at least) instead it should be harder to gain their loyalty, but there should be more options to do so.

Same goes for upgrades etc, In Planescape: Torment you could talk the last boss down and save all your mates but only if you completed a fairly well hidden side quest. Also, character loyalty should dictate their actions wholesale, not simply weather or not they live or die.


Part 2: Preparing for the suicide mission

Lets face facts, the final mission wasn't all it was built up to be, it should have been longer, harder and cleverer (no innuendo intend). Personally I would have dropped a few of the recruitment missions and spent more time on the suicide mission.

First and foremost it could have been made more epic and emotional if it was split up into a series of “Island hops”. The Normandy lands on the collector ship to steal something to gain access to the base or whatever, strategy is required and not all of them may make it back, then back to the Normandy to grieve if they don't and plan the next excursion, rinse and repeat over varied environments, you could hop between the derelict ships towards the collector base for example.

Strategy should be the key to survival, as well as picking a leader to lead the 2nd fireteam, you should also have to give orders at various points, order them to push forward too early and they may be cut down by too fierce a resistance, order them to stay put for too long and they may be overwhelmed. Disloyal characters would flee back to the Normandy, Loyal ones may throw their lives away to save others, and various other choices earlier in the game could impact this.

There could also be a point where, say, the reapers use indoctrination against your team, anyone not loyal turns against you and you're forced to kill them.


Part 3: A heroic Sacrifice

So you finally fight your way to the center of the collector base, maybe you lost a few men, maybe they all made it, but now you've got a choice to make, and no its not weather or not to blow up the collector base or keep it, its how you're going to detonate that bomb.

In the previews for Mass Effect 2 we were told that Shepard could very well die, and that If he did you'd say 'fair enough' because the choices you made led him to his fate. This didn't quite happen as well as I expected, Shepard dies only if by the off chance you miss most of the loyalty missions don't upgrade anything and make a pigs ear of your specialists, only an idiot Shepard would die, but he's given a heroic death anyway.

Instead we should have a scenario combining elements of Dragon Age and Planescape. In DA you're given the choice, sacrifice yourself, sacrifice your companion or take a morally questionable 3rd route. In Mass Effect 2 the loyalty system would have been a good impacter on this. Lets say the bomb at the end can only be detonated directly, so somebody has to stay behind, the truly heroic Shepard can detonate it himself, but lets say Thane (cause he's dieing) Samara (cause she's old) Legion (cause he's a hive mind anyway) and Garrus (cause he's like that) also volunteer to detonate it, but ONLY if they're loyal and survived. No loyalty or an all dead team means Shepard has to detonate the bomb after all.

But I did mention a third option, one that can get your whole team home provided they've survived thus far. A la Planescape's Blade of the Immortal, there would be a fairly obscure side quest where you get the Cain nuke launcher at the end rather than researching it, completing this quest means that rather than having to detonate the bomb manually, you can launch it from the Normandy and everyone gets home safe and sound.

There you go, third option, but only for those curious enough to find it.

Achievements for the various different outcomes like in Dragon Age, rather than just one for saving everyone.

Also if Shep dies in ME2 you should still be able to carry the game across, but play ME3 as a whole new character.

Just a few thoughts on how I think an already near perfect game could have been even better. My standards are way too high.


In other news, Call of Pripyat was awesome.

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