Saturday, August 7, 2010

Baldur's Gate 2 vs Mass Effect 2

Okay, I know might seem like a bizarre topic, but bear with me here. There are actually a lot of design similarities in the structure of the two games. I'll issue a spoiler warning for both games before I start.

Baldur's Gate 2 places you with the goal "raise money to reach Imoen/Irenicus", but leaves it up to you how to pursue it. It floods you with choices of sidequests in order to achieve that goal. It offered you freedom in terms of those sidequests, you were inundated with them at the start, and had to decide which ones were most important to you as a character. As you progressed you took along your party members and got to know them a little (or a lot) better during the process. As you progress, must perform some of the linear plot (the guild war), and eventually track down Irenicus and kill him. But a large proportion of the game is in the sidequests to explore the gameworld. Each party member even has their own dedicated "side-quest" so you get to know them better.

PC gains Jan's loyalty. *tick*

Mass Effect 2 placed you with the goal "form a team to defeat the collectors", but leaves it up to you how to pursue it. Once again, you're given a number of tasks to achieve and freedom in the order in which to pursue them. You have to decide which members sound the most important to you in order that you want to "hire" them first. Again, you get to know your party members better if you take them along, and even if you don't you can still chat with them in the Normandy. You get thrown into part of the linear main plot along with way (Horizon, Collector Ship), and eventually kill the collectors. Again, the sidequests are the focus, and party members have their own dedicated "side-quest".

So why does Mass Effect 2 get panned for this focus on side quests but Baldur's Gate 2 never does? Simple. This might sound like a "I WANT MOAR!!!" argument, but Mass Effect 2's biggest problem is that the main quest isn't long enough. The main quest consists of Freedom's Progress, Horizon, the Collector Ship, Reaper IFF and the Collector Base. Five missions, probably accounting for at most 8 hours of the gameplay. The Collectors and Harbinger simply weren't in the game enough for you to care about them sufficiently. Compare to Irenicus who hassled you at every turn, you spent time fighting with his sister (who later had the potentially to really get to you by stealing your love interest), and he even had the assistance of the Drow.

Sorry, I lost the plot a little in these side quests...

The problem in ME2 was that the "side quests" occupied the majority of the game, and didn't matter until the last mission. That said, the final mission where you got to assign other team members to roles really succeeded in terms of tying together the "mission" of the game to collect a team. You actually got to put that team to use by assigning their roles during the assault. I still think this was excellent, and I don't think it should have been included previously in the game, as it makes a fitting climatic finish. If you'd had the same thing occur earlier, the finish wouldn't have had the same impact.

The weakness of the game was that it lacked the strong overarching narrative present in either Baldur's Gate 2 or the original Mass Effect. What it really needed were a few more mandatory missions in the middle of the game to reinforce the threat of the Collectors and the need to eliminate them. The threat of the Reapers almost took a backseat through the game, and we merely dealt with their pawns in an intermediate struggle until the final showdown promised by the third game.

1 comment:

  1. I think some people miss that the whole focus of ME2 was the "loyalty missions." Many people think of them as side quests, but they *aren't.* You have to complete at least two just to finish the game, and you can do up to 10 of them. They are mostly optional, but they were the focus of the game. (So they aren't side quests like the personal missions of BG2.)

    I agree 500% on the shortness and shallowness of ME2's main plot. I never really cared about the Collectors, they were off somewhere doing their thing while I was doing mine. I guess that's what happens when you get 15+ major story arcs. (12 for characters, 1 for Shepard/EDI, 1 main plot, 1 series plot.)

    I mean, we get 5 "main plot" missions and then we get 18-20 major missions for our squad. When I heard ME2 was a character-focused game, I wasn't expecting it to be so obvious.

    Thing is, ME1 only had a few main plot missions (Eden Prime, Citadel, Feros, Therum, Noveria, Virmire, Ilos.) That's about 7 missions, but each mission made you care about what the villains were. Each mission stressed either Saren or Sovereign as antagonists, and the Thorian on Feros or Matriarch on Noveria were well-known by the player before they became boss fights.

    Saying this, ME2 suffered with short missions that were basically condensed versions of the stories they could have told. (Play Mordin's recruitment mission. Tell me there wasn't a better way of telling the player the Collectors were involved than having a Vorcha monologue.) Adapting and revising a comparison I found elsewhere, Mass Effect is like reading a novel or a series of novellas while ME2 is a collection of short stories. (Get it? Collection? Nevermind...)

    Summary: there didn't need to be more main missions in ME2, we just had to care about what was happening. Freedom's Progress? Already lost. Horizon? Too short, didn't care. Derelict Reaper? Missed potential of pushing the trilogy plot forward.

    I'm going to let other people dispute my claims now, I could rant about ME2 all day...