If I were to guess, I’d say I’m about 15 hours into the game — fifteen hours that would break down as: five hours spent picking up on differences between ME1 and ME2, and ten-plus hours since spent completely absorbed by the title’s level of quality. Fifteen hours is enough to have a fairly accurate feel for ME2’s big pillars, which are talking and fighting. Let’s chop one of them pillars down today. Let’s go for the fighting.
- I have to start by saying that I greatly enjoyed playing through ME1. But ME2 makes the ME1 experience feel like a straight-forward stroll down a nondescript hallway shooting whatever happens to pop up in front of you. What a difference. Well-placed cover points, hiding spots, bridges, explosives, and door ways all work together to create built-in surprise and strategy to far more ME2 encounters.
- But it goes beyond the layouts. In ME1, a great majority of the time you were marching forward, constantly blitzkrieging bewildered opponents. In ME2, some levels require you to push forward while some task you with holding a location. I love the addition of defense to the mix. It completely changes your mind-set.
- And then we add AI to the mix. Opponents don’t meander down hallways to your location allowing themselves to be picked off. They hide behind cover. Or some of them hide behind cover while their friends sneak around to your flanks; there has been more than one time where an enemy slipped past unnoticed and took out my group from behind. Or they send animals or giant mechs or krogan running to your location, and take advantage of the chaos. There were a few tough battles in ME1 where I had to stay in cover. But I never had a situation where I had to flee from my cover while taking fire, as in ME2. It definitely adds some needed tension and the necessity for quick thinking to the battles.
- Speaking of added tension and requiring quick thinking, I think I now understand why BioWare switched from overheating weapons to weapons that require bullets. At first glance, the shoot-pause-shoot pacing for guns with bullets and guns that overheat is identical. So why change what already works? My guess is that because a gun can only hold so many rounds, resource management becomes an extra concern. In some of the tougher, longer fights I’ve almost run out of bullets. But there are always ammo clips scattered about a level — teasing you, just out of range and away from cover. It’s quite the rush to dash out from cover to grab a clip and hope you can jump back to cover before dying.
- In ME1, I can think of very few instances where I did something aside from press forward, but there have been many missions in ME2 where I had to backtrack or move back-and-forth through an area a few times or deal with enemies coming at me from a branch in the path. It has more of a first-person shooter feel to it. That is, instead of always moving through new space, you stay in an area longer and gain some familiarity with the map. It’s not only a more efficient use of resources, but it creates a stronger attachment to the location for the player.
- In ME1, when I think back on it, I have trouble remembering fighting much of anything aside from geth. But there’s a real diversity to the opponents in ME2. I’ve come across a few different alien mercenary types, i.e. salarians. And robot types, i.e. mech bodyguards. And creature types, i.e. verran and robo-verran. And giant mechs. And geth. And armatures. And, of course, there are humans. It’s quite the mix. Some of the diversification affects strategy. Some is only meaningful aesthetically. But it makes each situation feel that much more unique.
- And adding yet another layer to everything mentioned so far that makes combat more exciting, some of these guys have armor and barriers and other protections that you have to work together with your teammates to whittle away. And while you’re working their shields, they’re using guns and biotic powers or firing missiles at you. It’s a really big tool box from which the designers can challenge the player, which forces the player to pay attention and make liberal use of the power wheel. As I referenced in an earlier post, I probably used the power wheel a half-dozen times in ME1. And never to give a command to one of my henchmen. I’ve surely used it three or four times, per fight, in every fight in ME2 I’ve been in so far — for myself and my henchmen.
- I had written that it felt like very little improved with your character as you played, but I was at least partially wrong. True, the characters themselves are more limited in their level-up gains, but you can do research to improve everything for your squad from damage to health to shields to biotic duration. So it isn’t that BioWare stripped out that level of customization; they merely pulled out the stuff from level-up that applies to a larger cross-section (like gun usage) and re-direct it into the research and upgrade stations. I’m OK with that. It actually seems a bit smart since it taxes the economy system (more on that in an upcoming post).
- I mentioned earlier that I felt rather inept with the pistol as an engineer. Since then, I’ve found a one-handed machine gun of some sort that has definitely made me much more deadly. I really liked the way the pistol felt in ME1, and this doesn’t feel like that, but it works. So while my engineer powers are my preferred, and most efficient, method of taking out foes, my gun is now making a lot of noise.
And that brings us to… my lone criticism of combat.
- Even after a few play sessions I’m finding cover to be slightly flawed. There have been times where I’m nestled in safe-and-sound and, after turning too far to the side to target an opponent who is attempting to flank my group, I stand up away from cover and am promptly riddled with bullets. There have been times when I accidentally jump forward over the cover I’m hiding behind, exposing me to the opponents. There have been times where I tried to run down a hall away from opponents and accidentally jumped into cover the wrong way, with my back exposed to the following opponents. And there have been times where I think I’ve jumped into cover yet I stand there next to the cover getting shot. These moments are few and far between (unfortunately, much less rare are the moments where my henchmen refuse to use cover or follow my orders for more than a second or two and are quickly put down. *sigh* Jacob and Grunt seem especially fond of shirking cover entirely). But they do happen and, while they’re usually not “game over” mistakes, they do raise the tension a little more than the situation might otherwise warrant.
And that does it for my experience with combat so far. Until next time.
(For those who’ve played and are curious where I am in my playthrough, I’d guess somewhere between a quarter and half way. I’ve recovered the first batch of henchmen: the Professor, Archangel, and the Convict. I visited the Citadel and hung out with my old pal Anderson. And then I grabbed Tali, the Warlord, and the Assassin. In between acquiring cohorts, the aforementioned have been taking turns informing my assistant that they each need a favor of me. So I’ve also been earning some loyalty.)