Sinister Soups Serving Musings On Game Development and Play

25Feb/100

Re-RPGing Mass Effect 2

This should be my last post about ME2, I feel like I've said most of what I have to say about it at this point, but I did want to share my thoughts on some aspects of the game that I feel Bioware simplified too much.

The one thing I would bring back from the original Mass Effect is the inventory system. Mass Effect 2 essentially doesn't have an inventory, and instead periodically awards you pieces of armor for different body parts, and a very limited number of new weapons that are pretty much just obvious replacements for your starting guns.

While customizing your armor is neat, it takes away the unique aspects of different suits of armor, instead having each little piece give a small bonus to HP, or Shields, or Biotic Damage. It also takes away armor classes, which means that no matter what character class you play, you'll always have pretty similar protection, rather than the light, medium, or heavy protection afforded by different armors in the first game.

Loot is an important part of the character improvement you expect in an RPG, and if done right, it doesn't have to be the mess it was in the original game.

Less Is More

A revised inventory system should avoid duplicates. In the original game, you would end up with 10 Phoenix IV armors, for instance, or 20 Toxic Rounds VI weapons mods. I would bring back armor, weapons, and weapon mods as items, but I would only let you get one of each type.

If you acquired, say, the Phoenix Light Armor Mark I, you would never find another such suit, nor would you find Phoenix Light Armor Mark II or any other upgrades. Instead, these would literally be upgrades, so that if you really liked the sort of stats that the Phoenix Light Armor emphasized, you would find schematics to upgrade it to Mark II, Mark III, etc.

In this way, you wouldn't end up with a crowded inventory, because each type of item would only take up one slot, but each item could also have cool unique properties that would make you want to upgrade it if it was your tool of choice. Maybe the Phoenix Light Armor can bring you back from the brink of death one time in a firefight (via magical biotic adrenaline or whatever), and has an especially good biotic defense. If that appeals to you, you would devote your resources to upgrading that model, and maybe let other models you have access to fall behind, at least until you get more resources or more upgrade schematics for those items.

The same would be true of weapons and weapon mods, you would only have one such item in your inventory, but that would just represent the fact that you can outfit your team with those items, not that you only have one instance of it. This way, you could still outfit multiple weapons with the same (upgraded) weapon mod, and give your team members upgraded weapons and armor (though more on this in a minute).

The key to this, of course, is that the game must have a wide variety of interesting armors, weapons, and mods for you to find. Bioware completely ignored this aspect in Mass Effect 2, maybe giving you one piece of mediocre "loot" per story mission, and not having enough variety in weapons that you would ever want to use the starting shotgun once you got the tier 2 version.

Instead, give us unique shotguns with stats that matter, whether that's firing rate, accuracy, knockback... look at Borderlands, there is a game that randomly generates weapons that feel fresh and unique without just being obvious linear upgrades.

Mass Effect 2 already allows you to upgrade things like overall shotgun damage, so instead, let us upgrade individual weapons and armor, so that we can customize our offense and defense how we choose, using whatever unique items we prefer.

The Party Problem

There is one aspect to this design that I am ambivalent about: whether you should be able to equip your teammates, like you could in the original game, or if you should only be able to impact it a little, like in the sequel.

On the one hand, equipping your party in the cool items you have found can be satisfying, and it lets you customize their performance. On the other, it also makes for a lot of unfun micromanagement.

In Mass Effect, I only used one team after a certain point, I never swapped out Liara or Wrex simply because unequipping the great stuff they were wearing and equipping it on someone else was too much of a hassle. Because you could only choose weapons for your companions in Mass Effect 2, however, and their armor never changed, I ended up using all sorts of different team makeups in the sequel, and I feel that this definitely added to my enjoyment of the game.

Being able to take whatever party members you like without having to worry about their equipment lets you have a lot more role-playing fun: bringing along characters you might want to learn about, or whose reactions you'd like to see to specific events.

I think that having the sort of inventory I described above, where you would only see one instance of a piece of armor, but could equip it to as many party members as you like, would make it so that you could still keep your whole roster's equipment up to date pretty easily, and so it wouldn't hurt to let you equip them.

Ultimately, though, I think this is the sort of thing that should come out in testing, and if it turned out to still stifle the ability to take any team you want, I wouldn't be opposed to just limiting the armor switching to your main character like Mass Effect 2 does.

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