Ever since Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (1st one, the 2nd wasn't nearly as good), I've been on a long, often futile quest for really good, engaging computer games. (Computer, not console — we don't own an XBox or PS3 or Wii. Not yet anyway.) The kind where I run one character, isn't an FPS (first person shooter, because they make me nauseaous), and has depth and an engaging story line. I loved the KOTOR story.
I believe I've found that in the Mass Effect series. Shortly after we returned to the States from living abroad, I found a copy of the first game on the discount shelf at Fry's — $19.99. Bought it, loaded it, played a little, didn't really get into it…didn't really try. Then I learned ME2 was coming out, and heard that if you played through the first game, you could transfer some history into your 'new' character. That sounded intriguing, so I went back to Mass Effect and began playing.
I had a lot of fun with ME1. Despite being a little dated in the gaming technology, Mass Effect was surprisingly entertaining, deep, and I grew quite attached to most of the characters on my crew. Sure, the game had some flaws — Omni-gel, the MAKO controls, the relative pointlessness of mining, the even greater pointlessness of hacking/cracking — but it was fun. I liked my paragon Engineer, and even pursued the in-game romance with Liara T'soni.
Afterwards, I took a break of a couple months — too much work and all — but then over the summer loaded up ME2 and started playing that. Greatly enjoyed it. Some of the changes from ME1 bugged me — I don't like ammo clips at all, or the ship fuel/probes system, or the new mining interface, or the dumbed-down minimalistic power/advancement tree. I missed the heavy degree of possible weapon and armor customization. Still hate the "crack the code/hack the door" mini-games and wish there was a way just to turn them off — because really, after you've done them enough times, there's no doubt you'll succeed, so why demand the extra mouse-clicks. Heck, just put an auto-cracker for sale on Illium or something — they'd be legal there. Or on Omega, where it doesn't matter if it's illegal.
Another thing lacking is minerals are used only in technical research. One ought to be able to convert excess into cashy-money, or something else useful. At one point in my first play-through I had over 300k of most of the minerals, after having bought all the tech upgrades, and realized there was no point in getting more. At least they should have let us manufacture med-kits, probes, fuel and spare regular and heavy weapon ammo.
Would've been nice as well if there was more stuff for sale at the shops, more of a rotating inventory. The stores and merchants in ME1 were awesome. Now, I go through the entire game with essentially the same armor outfit nearly and always the same weapon in hand, only upgraded as soon as I make a tech increase. I miss the ammo options, the barrels & scopes, the plug-ins for the armor, and all the armor variants. I miss having an actual inventory.
Anyway — still fun. I played through ME2 on the Normal setting — and the game was still challenging to me. I added the two hover-cruiser based DLCs (downloadable content modules), and Kasumi's adventure. They enhanced the game somewhat but weren't 'knock my socks off' fun, and none of the three really looked like they'd have any lasting effect on the upcoming ME3, except maybe the presence of Kasumi herself.
Last week, the latest DLC, the Lair of the Shadow Broker showed up — and lucky me, I'm still playing ME2 intermittently. I beat it the once already as a normal-difficulty Sentinel, but wanted to try some other variants. Played through as an Adept… interesting, a little harder at the beginning, but with the right party members and heavy weaponry, one can do well, plus I managed to complete the pentultimate mission without any of my main crew dying. Started a male character bad guy Infiltrator… I have a hard time being nasty in the game and so only play him when I'm in a poor mood. Then one night, I thought I'd see if I could play my preferred class (Sentinel — I like the tech shield), but on the Hardcore difficulty setting (1 less than max, which is Insanity). It was in the middle of this I learned about LSB — and hey, I actually happened to be on Illium already.
After taking care of pending Illium business, last night I started the opening dialog for this one — and man, talk about fun. First thing I noticed was Liara wasn't nearly as cold towards me as she had been before the DLC… and at first things are kinda slow, searching an apartment… bleh. But the adventure soon cranked up after that, and incorporated new elements I hadn't thought possible. I'm not going to get into details, other than to say that the new scenes seemed true additions to the gameplay, not someone cutting and pasting old elements. The 'Boss' fights were among the toughest in the game (especially on Hardcore difficulty), and the location of the last half of the adventure, the designers and graphic artists really went all out.
Also, along the way, Shepherd and Liara have some very amusing banter, including jokes about the now-obsolete does-anything Omni-gel and the awful MAKO dropship controls. Best of all, in my opinion, my imported ME1 Shepherd character was able to continue her relationship with Liara, and although the events in between were raised as a factor ("You were gone for 2 years! I thought you were dead." "I was dead. I got better."), they didn't bring an end to things. (Like, I used to have a nice friendship going with Ashley — and now she hates my guts, no matter what I do or say. Damn you, Cerberus.)
Like I said about the DLCs: Kasumi was interesting, but in the end mostly just a puzzle-solve and fight to escape, and okay, you come away with a nice casual outfit. But I never actually used Kasumi in the game, as her sneak-thief skills just kept putting her in the thick of enemies, and getting killed. The Rosalie & Overlord DLC missions? Meh. Felt like arcade games with lousy hover/flying controls. And if I have to go scouring for heavy weapon ammo and ammo clips for my regular guns (total PITA, btw), how come the Rosalie has unlimited shots? Most times, I hung below some dip in the terrain or behind some object, and just kept bouncing up, fire a bunch of cannon rounds, then dropped back into cover. I only got killed when I was careless. Plus the 'run around and hover over these objects' gambit got old real fast. On my 2nd play through with the Adept imported Shepherd, I didn't even bother with the Rosalie missions.
This one, the Lair of the Shadow Broker, is an adventure that really feels like an integral and necessary addition to the original Mass Effect 2 game. Since I'm playing at the harder difficulty level and am not some L33T young twitch-gamer, yes, I died frequently, but that was okay. And the post-adventure content was hilarious. Hint: visit and explore all the terminals that open up; you'll be glad you did… Who knew Jack was into poetry? Dark, violent, disturbing poetry…but nonetheless. And Grunt's exanet searches and item purchases are laugh-out-loud funny.
Thumbs up on Mass Effect in general, and definitely for the Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC add-on.