I mentioned I’m playing Mass Effect again. In addition to highlighting just how uninteresting my hobbies can be, the experience allows me to more finely compare and contrast certain aspects of both games. The combat is the first and most likely target for such a comparison, as it’s one of the biggest problems people have with the second game outside of the scanning mechanic and the lack of exposed skin during the “romantic interludes.”
Combat in the first Mass Effect is, like the inventory system, ripe territory for micromanagement. Every character has a variety of powers that are mostly on separate cooldown periods. To effectively survive combat encounters with minimal expenditure of medi-gel or grenades, especially on higher difficulty levels, using the radial menu to pause the game, look around and target party members’ powers on specific enemies is every bit as important as making sure your guns have the right load-out. It’s a combat system that rewards preparation and planning. If you know there will be a ton of geth in a particular hotspot, load up on anti-synthetic ammo and be sure to have at least one tech specialist in your party to ruin the geth’s day by destroying their shields. Areas of rachni, thorian creepers or other organic hazards will require different ammo and a wider array of powers. And if you want a real challenge, try fighting without biotics. The ability to take an assailant off the ground with your brain or slam them against the wall as a killing blow are things you’re likely to miss when a geth Destroyer is coming straight for you.
Mass Effect 2‘s combat is a bit more straight-forward and faster paced, as I’ve mentioned. Like other third-person shooters, most notably Gears of War, just about every where you go in the Terminus Systems you’ll find plenty of chest-high walls. You survived a lot longer in the first game when shooting from cover, but you were also spending half your time in the radial menu. The sequel seems to want to limit the amount of power-picking, so while you do have more places to map powers (a definite improvement), you have fewer powers from which to choose. Shepard can have up to six, seven if you count Unity, while members of your party won’t ever have more than three. Sure, there’s less to keep track of, meaning you’ll be moving through combat a bit more rapidly and it adds to the overall action-oriented feel of the game. But I can’t help but feel that something’s been lost.
I’m not saying one method of combat is superior to the other. They both work, they’re both fun and neither feels completely out of place. To be honest, the only major difference is that combat in the first feels more like an RPG while the second is more shooter-oriented. Yahtzee accurately points out that gameplay is still ‘flailing about’ trying to strike the right balance, and the first two games lean just a bit too much in one direction or another. Again, this is not a complaint, merely an observation. I hope that BioWare keeps trying to find that balance for Mass Effect 3 and doesn’t turn it into Gears of War: Spectre Edition.