Mass Effect and combat diversity


It is extremely hard to deny that Mass Effect 2 is one of the best games currently on the market. Personal taste will determine where it falls on your gaming hierarchy, but it’s still undeniable that it’s a wonderful game. Mass Effect 2 worked very hard to improve its combat system over the first Mass Effect game and cut out a lot of the unnecessary fat, and while it did a good job at this, there were a number of things the original Mass Effect did very well that didn’t make it into the sequel for one reason or another.

My personal grievance is the loss of some of the most thrilling opponents from the original game. Mass Effect 2’s cover shooter gameplay is on the whole more exciting than the combat of the first game, but the enemies themselves aren’t particularly meaningful — each enemy that pops up feels like little more than more meat being thrown into a grinder with very few exceptions — the Scion enemies force you out of cover temporarily and the melee opponents that flank you do the same, but their appearances are rare outside of the core, mandatory missions against the Collectors. Beyond that, combat is essentially: enemy sticks their head out, enemy dies.

Personally, I see a few ways they could mix up combat again in the upcoming Mass Effect 3.

Bring back the Geth Hopper

The leaping, wall-crawling son of a bitch at the top of this post is the stuff of nightmares. The unit is pitched as a “cyberwarfare platform” in the in-game universe and it does its job well. Not only does the hopper scramble your on-screen radar while it’s present and blind you to your enemies’ locations (assuming you don’t have the appropriate upgrades), it also adds additional dimensions to the combat. When the geth hopper is involved, you can’t just look straight ahead and take a headcount of what you’re fighting. The hopper could be on the ground, but it could also be overhead or on the walls, taking cheap shots at you while it scurries out of the line of fire.

A close friend of mine, one of the rare few that disliked Mass Effect 2, describes its combat as “hiding behind conveniently placed boxes while spraying bullets down a hallway.” That’s an extreme oversimplification of the game, but it’s true in the most basic sense. There are very few enemies and encounters that force you to pay attention to what’s going on anywhere but directly in front of you. The reintroduction of the hopper (or new enemies similar to it) could change the dynamic of combat in a big way.

Geth in general are also less intimidating in Mass Effect 2, largely because the cover shooter gameplay makes them feel less intelligent, less predatory. The geth could be downright terrifying in the original Mass Effect, employing snipers in high, hidden nests while throwing shock troops, armatures, and colossuses at you. The geth are supposed to be scary opponents, but in Mass Effect 2 they were a mild inconvenience, even in Tali’Zorah‘s recruitment quest wherein you actually are put up against a colossus. Unfortunately, the single colossus you encounter is completely stationary and poses no real threat whatsoever while you funnel the geth ground troops through a single pathway of your choice.

Bring back the hoppers, bring back the armatures and the colossuses, and let’s make the geth scary again.

Bring back the krogan

Oh yeah, there were krogan all over Mass Effect 2, but did any of them ever strike fear into your heart? Krogan in the original Mass Effect were dangerous brutes that, if you let them close to melee range, would completely ruin your day. There weren’t very many of them, but the ones you encountered were damn mean and damn meaningful.

In Mass Effect 2, the krogan are plentiful. There are encounters where you kill them by the dozen, and one of the recruitment quests specifically throws weak, mass-produced krogan at you — almost like the game is fully aware that these giant, imposing berserkers are no longer notable. Throughout the game you also encounters the krogan-led Blood Pack mercenaries, made up of the monstrous krogan and the diminutive vorcha — the universe’s sentient vermin. In encounters with the Blood Pack, it’s rarely the krogan that sets you on edge. You see it, gun it down, and move on with your life. The vorcha with their rocket launchers, flamethrowers, and insane health regeneration that demands no less than a headshot to put them down are far more frightening.

Mass Effect 3 needs the krogan of the first Mass Effect, not the glorified moving target of Mass Effect 2. When a krogan charges me, I want to be worried.

More flanking, melee enemies

Mass Effect 2’s husks are one of the few enemies in that game that make you realize how vulnerable Commander Shepard and his/her teammates can be. Until you’ve acquired a significant number of upgrades, a husk rush can swarm over your team, drag your allies to the ground in an instant, and force Shepard into a terrified retreat. That’s a good thing. The husks (and to a lesser extent the fishdog varren) flank you, flush you out of cover, and suddenly you’re under fire from all of the enemies you were safely hiding from behind a box.

These enemies were used to great effect in the few core missions against the Collectors, the game’s primary opponents, but very rarely beyond that. The rarity of in-your-face combat in this game (unless you played a vanguard, of course) not only made combat very repetitive after awhile, it also made some of your teammate options less attractive. The only time you would want your allies using shotguns is when they were equipped with the DLC shotguns that turned them into long-range weapons. They had no opportunities to use these weapons up close, so a large aspect of those characters was essentially useless.

In Mass Effect 3, I would like to see some more short range and mid-range combat that forced you to adapt to the situations and use your teammates that specialize in that kind of combat. Use your tough, tank-like characters, use the characters that are strong short-range fighters, build a perimeter and hold out against the swarm.

To sum up

Mass Effect 2 is one of my all-time favorite games, but the transition from Mass Effect 1’s engine to Mass Effect 2’s engine definitely carried a bit of the “baby and the bathwater” issue with it. If BioWare builds Mass Effect 3 up using what they’ve learned from both of its predecessors, we’re in for one hell of ride. I don’t want them to ignore the great things that weren’t carried over from the first installment of the series, because there’s still a lot of potential there waiting to be used.

Mass Effect 2 fell into the trap of assuming that because different enemies use different spells, that must mean combat will be diverse. That’s not true. You need variety in aesthetics and motions as well — the first Mass Effect nailed that, but the sequel fell short. Mass Effect 3 has an opportunity to integrate the strengths of both games and I hope they achieve that.

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  • Chad

    I miss the Mako. I loved going down on a planet and hunting down a distress signal only to find an empty outpost. Then, just when you thought it was over, you get ambushed by a bunch of Geth when leaving the Outpost and figure out the humans were turned into Husks. Hearing about the Mako not being in ME2 is the reason I haven’t played it yet.

  • Meh

    If you played as adept, combat is even more repetitive than you seem to have experienced. Max out warp asap, hide behind cover and toss them in an arc so it hits enemies regardless of cover. Occasionally toss out a singularity if there are tons of guys coming at your squad. By the time you’re up against husks in any number you and your squad-mates have high level area effect cc powers that nuke them easily (anything that lifts them off the ground is instant death). The only time you might have to place yourself carefully or move from your cover is in those few missions where they make cover scarce or have non cannon fodder enemies that can attack at close range or through cover.