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TOM FRANCIS
REGRETS THIS ALREADY

Hello! I'm Tom. I designed a game called Gunpoint, about rewiring things and punching people, and now I'm working on a new one called Heat Signature, about sneaking aboard randomly generated spaceships. Here's some more info on all the games I've worked on, here's the podcast I do, here are the videos I make on YouTube, here are some of the articles I wrote for PC Gamer, and here are two short stories I wrote for the Machine of Death collections.

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By me. Uses Adaptive Images by Matt Wilcox.

Hitman header tunnel

Rewarding Creative Play Styles In Hitman

Far Cry Primal Thumbnail

Postcards From Far Cry Primal

Snowball jack header

Solving XCOM’s Snowball Problem

Kill Zone and Bladestorm

Kill Zone And Bladestorm

BAFTA Featured

An Idea For More Flexible Indie Game Awards

Sectors Header

Teaching Heat Signature’s Ship Generator To Think In Sectors

DXHR Open area

What Works And Why: Multiple Routes In Deus Ex

Heat Signature Natural Numbers

Natural Numbers In Game Design

Pharma Header

Naming Drugs Honestly In Big Pharma

Writing vs Programming

Make A Game Tutorial Thumbnail Featured IMage

Let Me Show You How To Make A Game

New Heat Signature Video: Galaxies, Suction And Wrench-Throwing

Her Story banner

What Works And Why: Nonlinear Storytelling In Her Story

My Idea For An ‘Unconventional Weapon’ Game

From Gunpoint To Heat Signature: A Narrative Journey

The Cost Of Simplifying Conversations In Videogames

Invisible Header

What Works And Why: Invisible Inc

Super Game Jam Header

Our Super Game Jam Episode Is Out

Shadow of Mordor Header 2

What Works And Why: Sauron’s Army

Heat Signature Talk

Showing Heat Signature At Fantastic Arcade And EGX

Projects

What I’m Working On And What I’ve Done

Murder, She Wrote

The Formula For An Episode Of Murder, She Wrote

Heat Signature Wide 2

Heat Signature Needs An Artist And A Composer

Heat Signature Floorplans Header

Improving Heat Signature’s Randomly Generated Ships, Inside And Out

Gunpoint Steam Workshop

Gunpoint Patch: New Engine, Steam Workshop, And More

Distance Header

Distance: A Visual Short Story For The Space Cowboy Game Jam

The Magic Circle

Raising An Army Of Flying Dogs In The Magic Circle

Floating Point Blog Launch

Floating Point Is Out! And Free! On Steam! Watch A Trailer!

Floating Sine

Drawing With Gravity In Floating Point

Fault

What’s Your Fault?

Hoplite banner

The Randomised Tactical Elegance Of Hoplite

Gone Point

Here I Am Being Interviewed By Steve Gaynor For Tone Control

Heat Signature Thumbnail

Heat Signature: A Game About Sneaking Aboard Randomly Generated Spaceships

GRappling Hook Thumbnail

The Grappling Hook Game, Dev Log 6: The Accomplice

Alien Swarm Heroics

A Story Of Heroism In Alien Swarm

FTL Story

One Desperate Battle In FTL

Spelunky Banner

To Hell And Back In Spelunky

Game vs story graph

Games Vs Story 2

Gunpoint Breakdown

Gunpoint Development Breakdown

Max Payne 3

Five Things I Learned About Game Criticism In Nine Years At PC Gamer

This is how you die

My Short Story For The Second Machine Of Death Collection

Clouds

Not Being An Asshole In An Argument

Skyrim Diary - Frostmere

Playing Skyrim With Nothing But Illusion

Mainstream Games

How Mainstream Games Butchered Themselves, And Why It’s My Fault

A-Rock-and-a-Hard-Place-Trio-Jan

A Short Script For An Animated 60s Heist Movie

Dark Messiah

The Magical Logic Of Dark Messiah’s Boot

Arguing

Arguing On The Internet

Spelunky

Shopstorm, A Spelunky Story

Stealth Games

Why Are Stealth Games Cool?

Violence

E3’s Violence Overload, Versus Gaming’s Usual Violence Overload

Suspicious Manifesto

The Suspicious Developments manifesto

GDC

GDC Talk: How To Explain Your Game To An Asshole

Crosslink

Listening To Your Sound Effects For Gunpoint

Happiness

Understanding Your Brain

What Makes Games Good

What Makes Games Good

Seat Quest

A Story Of Plane Seats And Class

Deckard: Blade Runner, Moron

Beneath Suspicion

Avoiding Suspicion At The US Embassy

Open Worlds

An Idea For A Better Open World Game

Level Up

A Different Way To Level Up

BioShock Ending

How I Would Have Ended BioShock

Meet the Spy

My Script For A Team Fortress 2 Short About The Spy

Team Fortress 2

Team Fortress 2 Unlockable Weapon Ideas

Football Manager

Don’t Make Me Play Football Manager

EVE Assassins

EVE’s Assassins And The Kill That Shocked A Galaxy

GalCiv 2

My Galactic Civilizations 2 War Diary

Gnome

I Played Through Episode Two Holding A Goddamn Gnome

Machine of Death

My Short Story For The Machine Of Death Collection

Blood money and sex

Blood Money And Sex

AOL

A Woman’s Life In Search Queries

Second Life

First Night, Second Life

SWAT 4

SWAT 4: The Movie Script

Mass Effect 2

The Best And The Worst Of Mass Effect 2 (Spoiler Safe)

After playing about four hours a day for a week, I completed this yesterday.

Short review: fightin’s better, writin’s worse.

It’s a magnificent game, though, in so many ways. While playing, the things that nagged nagged so badly I had to write them out just for catharsis – it’s rather satisfying, it lets you stop analysing those problems and get on with enjoying the game. I’ve included those here in case it’s also cathartic to read them, but skip em if you’re just having fun.

I’ve also hidden anything that could be construed as a spoiler, with a link to reveal it that says what section of the game it’s a spoiler for.

First, one thing I wish I’d known before I started: You’re repeatedly warned that when you do the next main mission, there’s no turning back. This is a lie. Until you go to a thing called the Omega Relay and click ‘Enter’, you can still go back and do anything you like. Even after that point, some of the side-missions and personal quests willl still be available after you finish the game.

Best: Shepard
(No spoilers)

MassEffect2 2010-01-23 22-13-15-65 shepard

I think she’s now my favourite game character of all time. In ME1 it was a combination of a smart, take-charge protagonist role, Jennifer Hale’s naturalistic, commanding performance of it, and dialogue options that let me walk the line between ‘stern’ and ‘asshole’ with gratifying precision. In ME2, it’s all those things with the added pleasure that this is now my character. It turns out there’s a world of difference between sequels where you play ‘the’ character from the first game, and ones where you play your character from the first game. The face is my own creation and the voice is BioWare’s choice, but the two are now so powerfully linked that I’d squirm to watch someone else play as their Shepard.

Worst: Cerberus
(Spoilers about the first couple of hours – show)

Best: Powers
(No spoilers)

MassEffect2 2010-01-25 09-52-50-14 ram

Totally redoing the classes was a smart move: each now has a unique defining power that you use in virtually every fight, and it really made me excited to try them all. Biotic powers were always physical, but now they take effect instantly, making them practical and impactful to play with. And Tech has been beefed up to feel tactile too: freezing someone with Cryo ammo and shattering them with a punch is wonderfully satisfying.

I played Vanguard, whose special ability is a hilariously unwise ramming move that zaps you across the field to slam your opponent flying. I had some incredible moments where I’d smash someone out of the window with that, then shotgun their friend and punch their robot dog. If you go a similar route, make sure you do Grunt’s personal mission. Later you can learn one of your squadmate’s unlocked abilities, and Fortification works brilliantly with Charge.

Worst: The Threat
(Major end-game spoilers – show)

Best: Combat

combat

Wow. I think it helps to play the last game immediately before this to get the full effect: I literally completed one and fired up the other. Even just the aiming is so much smoother, faster and more precise, and then when you fire: pow! It actually sounds like a physical object was launched from this weapon by an explosion! I didn’t dislike the weapons in the first game, but a combination of the excellent sound design, more forceful animation response, and robot dismemberment make this so much more tactile and fun. It feels like a few guys spent the whole of ME2’s development working on /feel/, and I think that’s something every sequel team should have.

Worst: Cover
(No spoilers)

spacebar

mass effect 2 - what i see sigh

The cover system is horrible. By making it the same button as Sprint, Use and Jump, you have to hide behind things before you can climb over them, you’ll stick to things you wanted to run past, and you’ll jump over things you wanted to hide behind. They still haven’t fixed the only real problem with ME1’s system: that when in cover, you’re not allowed to shoot anything to your sides or in front of you: you actually have situations where you have to take a few seconds to unstick yourself from cover, then walk back to where you were to be able to aim at someone directly in front of you. Two years they had, one fix to make, failed unaccountably they gone did.

Instead: they should have just had a sprint button. While holding it, you run as fast as possible and vault over anything in your way. When you’re not holding it, you’ll take cover behind anything you’re touching if you’re in combat. If you aim at anyone you can’t shoot because the game doesn’t have animations for it, you automatically come out of cover to turn to face them properly.

MassEffect2 2010-01-28 10-07-09-65 combat

Best: Mordin
(Spoilers for both Mordin quests – show)

Worst: Cooling Clips
(No spoilers)

cooling

ME2’s substitute for ammo: all guns have infinite ammo, but they all need cooling, and the cooling tube thingy needs replacing every few shots. Luckily they all take the same cooling clips, so any you find restock your ammo for all weapons.

Firstly, this sounds like nonsense. Secondly, it actually is. It’s okay for the player to not really buy into the cooling concept, if it at least explains the ammo mechanic. But this concept is both unconvincing and an outright lie. That’s not how it works. You can run out of cooling clips for your pistol and still have 245 for your sub machinegun. There’s no way to use the pistol until you find more cooling clips for it: so weapons do have mututally exclusive clip types. Guys, that’s just ammo. Just call the pickup an ‘ammo box’ and we’ll get that it contains some ammo for each of your weapons. Don’t invent a bizarre new concept and then lie about the way it works.

And after all that, the system truly sucks. I’m constantly out of ammo for the one gun I like because I’m only allowed to hold 16 shots for it, and switching between that and the shitty pistol is a massive hassle. If I find some cooling tubes, I have to pick up one, then switch to the gun I like, then load it, then pick up the next one. Otherwise, it’ll fill the reserve ammo without filling the magazine, leaving me with even less ammo for the only weapon I like.

Instead: each weapon should have its own ammo, and that ammo reserve should be replenished automatically when you’re out of combat. Still encourages weapon variety, but you don’t have to search the whole goddamn room for clips, making sure you have the right weapon out, after every fight.

Best: Thane
(Mild spoilers for recruiting Thane – show)

Worst: Harbinger
(Very mild spoilers about Harbinger – show)

Best: Legion
(General spoilers about who Legion is – show)

Worst: The Illusive Man
(No spoilers, just the name)

MassEffect2 2010-01-28 11-24-17-89 illusive

Fails the first test of a name for any fictional character: use it in a sentence. “The Illusive Man is very impressed with your- heheh, no, I’m sorry, I can’t go on. The ILLUSIVE MAN? That’s what we’re calling him? In actual conversation?”

Instead: anything. I was vegetating in front of an episode of Friends the other day; Paul Rudd tried to come up with the worst name for himself imaginable, and settled on ‘Crapbag’. I would honest-to-God rather he was called that.

Best: Archangel
(Major spoilers about first Archangel encounter – show)

Worst: Two Years
(Spoilers about returning characters – show)

Best: Punch And Hug Buttons
(Spoilers for Thane’s personal mission and an interview – show)

Worst: Paragon And Renegade
(Intro spoilers – show)

Some actions now give you points for both. BioWare, let me explain the genius of your system to you so you can go back to using it correctly. ‘Paragon’ means doing something kind when it is not necessary. ‘Renegade’ means doing what may be necessary, even if it’s unkind. A person can be both: I punch and threaten people to make sure I get what I need quickly, but I’ll save lives if it doesn’t risk the mission. A single action can’t be, they’re defined as the complement of each other.

Worse, there’s now a skill that dramatically amplifies your Paragon and Renegade scores, completely defeating the point of the system. The game’s perception of your badassness and heroism is now based almost entirely on how many points you’ve pumped into a skill, and worse, it’s the same skill for both. If I wipe out a species because I don’t trust them (to take an example from the first game), that’s not more Renegade if I have +4 in Assault Training when I do it.

Best: Locations
(No spoilers)

MassEffect2 2010-01-26 21-58-25-92 alien worlds

I did like landing on strange new worlds in the Mako and drivin’ around a bit, but inevitably they couldn’t make good on the promise of that Star Trek fantasy in ME1. ME2’s just a realisation of what they can do: concentrate on the worlds there’s a good reason to visit, and make them awesome. There’s nowhere as drab or awkward as Noveria in this game, and some of the main planets are downright exciting. Illium, in particular, is made real by the way the missions there take you in hovercars to cool places.

Worst: Weapons
(No spoilers)

weapons

In theory I like the change: I hit the 150 item limit in Mass Effect 1, and sorting through the shit was made needlessly hard by a rubbish interface. Here there’s only one or two new weapons to find for each slot, and everyone gets them. They’re even meaningfully different: the second Heavy Pistol you get has less ammo but more damage per shot.

The trouble is, the new weapons are also so much better than the old ones that there’s no decision to make. The second Sniper Rifle fires around 3,000% faster than the original one, so if there is any difference in the damage per shot, it’s irrelevant. In the end the only decision you get to make is which Heavy Weapon to take, and they’re so cumbersome and ammo-starved that you end up avoiding them for most of the game.

It’s also a pain in the arse to switch between the good ones. It’s nice that they no longer make you carry all four weapon types, but as a Vanguard, I’m stuck with some useless toy called a Shuriken Pistol between my proper pistol and my shotgun, meaning I can’t weapon switch effectively without having to pause the game.

Instead: all that needs to change is for the newer weapons you find, which are a bit different functionally, to be similar in overall power to the old ones. If they just want to upgrade my Heavy Pistol damage, give me a Heavy Pistol damage upgrade – there’s a whole system for that.

Best: The intro
(It’s exciting! That’s all I have to say – show pic)

Worst: Squad Management
(No spoilers)

MassEffect2 2010-01-25 18-24-12-28 don't smile mirandaOkay Miranda, your previous ‘no smiling’ policy was working really well for me.

There’s no way to level up your squad or even see exactly what skills they have without leaving your ship with one of them and examining them planetside. And yet there’s a dedicated Squad screen on your personal terminal that would be perfect for it – instead, it’s functionless and missing most of the very information it’s there to provide.

To add weird problem to injury, every time you change area you have to re-select your squad and their equipment: even during the parts of the game when you have no choice of either.

Instead: assume I want to keep the squad members I selected when I left the Normandy, unless I turn back and try to leave the mission area: then, give me the option of aborting or switching squad.

Best: Scanning
(No spoilers)

MassEffect2 2010-01-26 22-42-28-78 scanning

The mini-game they’ve replaced the emptier exploration missions with really worked for me: the quivering line graphs gave a little thrill of excitement when they shook into a mountainous peak as I passed over a rich seam of Platinum. God damn you need a lot of Platinum in this game.

It does get old, but only shortly before you’ve got every upgrade you need. I think perhaps some late missions should give you a generous income of the main minerals so you can snap up anything you don’t already have.

Worst: Shepard
(Spoilers for the prison – show)

general

Justin Keverne: I liked having the option to change my party members when entering a combat area, but it would have been better if they'd simply provided an option to change party members without returning to the Normandy. Obviously that could be limited to outside of combat if it was felt necessary.

Zed: I agree with you on many of your points: Thane and Mordin were the best characters in the game i feel, the mining mini-game wasn't as repetitive or mundane as some other reviews would lead me to believe, and god dammit, i wish they kept the inventory/loot system of ME1. I don't care if it's streamlined, i want 10000 different assault rifles and pistols, and armor, and i want to be able to sell them to get credits(you can't sell anything in this, which i would also apply to the minerals, i kept finding sources of iridium to the point that i had somewhere near 1 million iridium, but about 2 thousand platinum and/or palladium. why can't i trade them?)

I found Cerberus to be a pretty pointless ret-con, it makes sense, but as you said, it could have been replaced without all that much trouble.

Another thing: Why did they bother to have the old crew survive? It was cool to see Wrex again, as well as Kaidan and Liara, but I wanted to recruit them again, and fight with them again (and have endless emotionally engaging conversations with Wrex :P) And Liara was really creepy and stiff, and i didn't like her anymore. she was too cold.

p.s., seems Bioware still aren't very good at violence unless there is a gun involved, whenever a character comes in contact with another in acutscene, it's pretty unconvincing.

Justin Keverne: @Zed In some interview somewhere the folks from BioWare were saying they didn't want the old love interests to be part of your party because they were trying to play up the possibility that any or all of your new party could die and they wanted to ensure those characters weren't at risk so they could still be around in a bigger way for ME3.

Ronnoc: Your Shepard looks a lot like mine. Also, good article.

roBurky: Your short review makes me sad. I had no complaints about the combat of Mass Effect 1, but lots of complaints about the story/writing. And you say this is worse.

Dante: The whole thing with the cooling clips is probably because they declared that all weapons had infinite ammo in ME1, and then got a little stuck for an in universe explanation when they decided this was a bad idea.

@ Ronnoc - I swear everyone who plays a female Shephard makes exactly the same character, bar a hairstyle change.

Jazmeister: Uh oh.

Max Battcher: IIRC, some actions in ME1 will give you points in Paragon and Renegade as well. Certainly several conversations tactics will, but also I believe the romance scenes themselves in both games give an equal, small Paragon/Renegade bonus.

Also, Dante is right, ME1 makes it clear that all weapons have infinite ammo, and describes why, and uses that heat management/cooldown system to keep you from actually infinite firing. (If you found the right set of upgrades with certain weapons that played well with your class you really could do infinite shooting, though, which was an interesting option to have.) The heat clips thing is a bad attempt to avoid a retcon and yet move back to the simpler concept of ammo packs instead of "heat management". I do think they could have come up with a better solution to simplify heat management without a retcon nor such a bizarre change to all weapons tech in the universe. (I probably would have done something similar to the health management change: swap a bar for a more "tactile" feel to weapon overheating, plus quicker in-cover cooldowns.)

Max Battcher: Also, The Threat is personal in this game... It's made clear towards the end (and somewhat clear in the beginning) that it is the very same Collector ship (with the same Harbinger) that blasts the Normandy SR1 in Intro and personally dogs you throughout the game... I do think that ME1 did a better job establishing the threat, but ME2's Threat I think is still within the same ballpark.

Andrew Alles: Fully agree with weapon balance - I'm a vanguard and I have used the shotgun only sparingly. There's no incentive to use any weapon other than the machine pistol because ammo for other weapons is so sparse. For example, the handcannon can carry only about 15 rounds, yet is the only weapon in my arsenal capable of dealing appreciable damage to armored enemies. Furthermore, it takes too freaking long to switch weapons - if I want to use charge on a target, for full effect, I need to switch weapons, which wastes a good 2 seconds, and then finally use charge(by which time my target is either dead, in cover, or I'm dead)

Andrew Alles: Sorry for a double post - but something else that nagged me: in my character background, I'm a sole survivor, which means I survived a traumatic event which would, in the game's words, "break most people". In the course of ME1, its revealed that Cerberus is responsible for that emotional trauma. Yet, my character does not seem the least bit perturbed in working with them.

quineloe: hit ESC and select squad, then you can see all your squad stuff as if you were selecting for a mission.

Rasmus Widengård: [Dante:] I beg to differ.
Allow me to introduce Audrey; troubled survivor of Akuze with a heart of gold.
Has a soft spot for interstellar anthropology, sniper rifles and ladies of an azure disposition.
http://i703.photobuc... ...1264898228

nine: Only problem with a female shepard: can't get it on with your Yeoman! I spend the whole game chatting her up and nothing happened :(

Rasmus Widengård: I never quite understood Bioware's reasoning behind omitting same-sex relations.
For being a future in which human conflicts have ascended from simple racial and sexual issues to issues of a galactic scale, it's a very coy and conservative future indeed.
Cowardly, even.

cixelsyD: I totally agree on the final boss battle, was really confusing. I guess it was just as confusing as defeating soverign/saren hybrid. I guess I can say I shot a reaper spawn in the eye.

I found the collectors actually to do the job they were meant for very well. they were meant to generate pity for the protheans and hatred for the reapers.

I also don't like paragon/renegade for a different reason. I think the game would be a lot more unique if you didn't tell people which decision was right or wrong. Let someone make the choice on their own, and face the consequences. It's stupid if someone doesn't take an action because they don't want Renegade points.

I found all the characters to be awesome. Even my least favorite, jack was cool. It's easy to have a character who says they have it the worst, but they get confronted with people who were treated far worse than she was.

PS your Cerberus spoiler link doesn't go anywhere.

Chijts: I agree with cixel, they shouldn't tell you what's para or renegade, although those interrupt options would be pretty random if you didn't know what was coming.

All these points are true about the game, I especially hate the weapon/ammo system. WHAT THE HELL? Just on paper it seems ridiculous - you had infinte ammo in the first game and now you don't because people want to make the weapons less useful. The weapon choices are ridiculously limited too. I also miss putting on my own mods to them too.


Also this game should get an award for "Most Satisfying Robot Killing"

cixelsyD: I'd also like to add that the sound design of this game was nothing short of SPECTACULAR. Everything you touched and clicked and shot sounded crisp, a far cry from ME1. Shooting geth was fun just because of the sounds they made.

Jason L: Maybe P/R should be hidden, maybe not - I don't know. But there's one dangerous phrase hidden in your post - the really, really, really good thing about Paragon/Renegade is that it is not a question of "right" and "wrong".

DJ S.: Agree with mostly everything, especially the A button part, they could use the analog stick... after all both are used for the map. also I feel the same about the collectors.. in fact to me they are just another species, and I can still blow their heads off. I wish they just kept the OLD ammo system. Why not? Reloading takes what a second? At least then there would be no more scouring for ammo because my heavy pistol with 30 shots is out and my other pistol is the equivalent of nerf gun. Except somehow it sucks more. If they fixed those 2 things this game would be even more awesome.

skizelo: Tom, you're a smart man, can you explain why pallette swaps are considered a worthwhile reward? Especially when they deck your sqaud out in halloween's black 'n' orange. When the new costume doesn't even fix the GAPING HOLE in one of your guys old armour, I feel they are making a point of some kind.
At least it gives Jack a top, kinda.
Also does anyone else find the mouse control for the minigames a bit fuzzy?

cixelsyD: @Jason L
Really? I guess I could possibly agree with you except xenophobia comes under the banner of renegade. If it were about getting the job done, ends justify the means, maybe i could understand, but under renegade you also have to be a rascist.

Some decisions in ME1 were straightfowardly good/evil. Take Conrad's chats, you can make him go home to his wife, or you can shove a gun in his face and get him killed. Even if you can't see good/evil in the methods during that assignment, you can see that one has a good result and one has a bad result unless you somehow think it's a good thing that a fan of yours gets to die.

Personally I love to play ME1-2 as a non xenophobic person who kills the killers who are sure to be guilty, and don't give them a second chance, but the paragon renegade system doesn't reward people who put a few decisions into both. You lose charm and intimidate options unless you are fully committed.

Tom Francis: I heard both the Renegade and Paragon actions in the Conrad encounter save him - persuade him to give up, or scare him into giving up. I haven't verified it, but the ME wiki says he only dies if you don't do either.

I like the system as-is: you're not told before making a choice what points effect it'll have, but once you do, you get to find out how the game judged you. Some of those judgements are a little off, so just fix those. I imagine it only gets really frustrating if you're trying to min/max in one direction or the other, which is a very mechanical way to go about ethical decisions.

The problems I mention really do ruin it, though - I'm trying a pretty nice guy this time through, but the steady stream of points in both categories, and a skill that amplifies both, has meant my character alignment looks exactly the same as my absolute bad-ass Shepard. I've even had Intimidate options light up without the Paragon equivalent being available.

Skizelo: I think their reasoning is that the new power is the substantial reward, and the re-skin is an aesthetic nicety. I share your pain, though: if the massive unique tear in the armour is still going to be there, don't pretend it's a 'new outfit'.

cixelsyD: Well I suppose you could always spend the resources to update the medical bay to fix your face. But then you couldn't look like a bad ass then.

Crowbar: Oh my yes, I loved Mordin too. Listening to him talk about his past and justifying the genophage were some of the best parts of the game for me. But really, I ended up liking all of the characters in the game, even the ones who seemed cheap and one-sided on the outset (Samara, for example).

Jones Scott: Pretty much one of the coolest games around right now, Bioware definitely shot the parrot.

DoctorDisaster: A week or so ago, I loaded up my favorite ME1 character (who looks eerily similar to yours, Tom) right before Ilos and started idly working on a more "complete" playthrough in preparation for the sequel. Just tonight I got to a level of completion I was happy with and blazed my merry way through the endgame. I had forgotten how effectively ME1's conclusion gets you excited for the sequel! Downloading now, grinning like a schoolboy on Christmas morning.

Not clicking the spoiler links.

Not. Clicking. The spoiler links.

Aargh.

Shepard: Fuck scanning. I miss the Mako.

TheFool: SPOILERS ABOUT GAME STORY

Alliance being dicks: they're politically stuck because they can't overwhelm the other races yet and the other races hate/fear them for becoming so powerful so quickly, depending on the ending you chose. The area in which almost all the missions occur is outside council space, and the humans living there reject alliance authority, which is why they live there instead of someplace safe. If the alliance tries to help the humans the locally sovereign governments will take that as a declaration of war, or at least a statement not much short of that. Meanwhile, if you go with the destruction-of-council-flagship route, the turians announced they're ignoring the capital ship limit and building up their military forces as much as possible. If humans look overstretched the other races might strike a blow for freedom from human "guidance". Essentially it's not worth it and the alliance did what they could to gather intel, such as sending the surviving human from ME1. Shepard's name is scum if you went renegade and if you went paragon you're still working for cerberus after vanishing for two years.

Illusive Man: it sounds horrible but I actually kinda like it now. Consider: it is a very allusive name. The Illusive man is a man those who seek find highly Elusive, he hides his work behind Illusive Shell Corporations and other such fronts, he makes Ill-Use of his agents in order to further his goals, and his entire agenda might be Illusionary if he turns out not to be human or simply be a power-hungry criminal. Really, how many other names contain so many puns? Also: his eyes, for some reason, remind me of the geth or EDI. Could be he's got a personal pet AI or six, or it could just be an attempt to look awesome, iunno.

The End-Boss: was just horrible and completely immersion-breaking for me. You even AIM FOR THE GLOWING EYE, for chrissake.

Atalanta: @TheFool:
Ill-Use of

Well played, sir.

Mild spoilers ahead

Mordin was my favourite character as well -- he felt like the character who got the most attention and love, and his missions were genuinely interesting. Also, I'm inclined to be excessively fond of anything Krogan related, so that certainly didn't hurt.

One change I didn't like was how claustrophobic the worlds became. The Mako, much as I loved it, wasn't ideal, but it did give the sense of there being an entire galaxy out there; now being limited to long-range scans and the occasional mission on foot makes everything feel cramped, somehow.

That's true of the worlds as well; being limited to only Zakera Ward and only being able to access certain places if you've been given a mission and not being able to hoof it to the Presidium, or at least have a cutscene showing the Citadel, or something, struck me as an odd choice. I mean, the claustrophobia works great for Omega and fine for Illium, but I do wish there was more sense of space.

I loved, like, 90% of the final mission (and cried huge tears when I screwed up and Mordin died), and then the baby reaper showed up and it kind of fell apart. I liked the idea of it well enough, I suppose, but... it was a giant skeleton thing with a glowy eye. Weak.

Tom Armitage: I have no problem with "The Illusive Man" as the name that appears in subtitles or credits, but I hate that the characters call him that. I'd rather he was only referred to by personal pronoun, or, at best, as "The Man". For weeks, we referred to Noah Bennet as HRG, even though the characters in Heroes never mentioned him by name; cf also, I believe, the Cigarette-Smoking Man. The idea that everyone keeps saying "I work for the Illusive Man"; "The Illusive Man wants to speak to you"; it drives me nuts! The idea that even in the credits, you wouldn't know his name - that's great.

Morph: Oh, so that's the explanation for the ammo system. I somehow completely missed that, and assumed all guns used the same ammo, and picking up an ammo canister restored ammo to all of them somehow. And... well it made little sesne, but I think I prefer my interpretation to the official version.

Though I tend to cycle between two weapons, so it's probably less anooying than if you stick with one.


So, The Illusive Man. Apparently got his name because the Alliance kept refering to Cerebus as being lead by an illusive man. Ah... so what was he called before that? The Man?

Chijts: Why couldn't Bioware have done something like this:

Shepard: So you're the Illusive Man!

Illu Man: Please, call me John.

PROBLEM DEALT WITH.

Matt M.: Having sunk 40 hours into the thing, my first reaction to "fightin's better, writin's worse" can be summarized as this: :(.

Don't get me wrong. The main plot, as Tom laid it out, is as subdued a narrative as I can ever remember seeing. It's incredibly short, too - a series of four or five missions to prep for the big shebang, each of which takes maybe thirty minutes to an hour courtesy of ME2's new focus on concision.

The remarkable parts, appropriately, are in the periphery: the characters, mainly, and not always the dirty dozen you collect over the course of the game.

What about the scene that ensues when you bring Dr. Chakwas a bottle of brandy? I won't spoil it for anyone who hasn't seen it, but it's a surprisingly touching look at her character, one well-deserved after she stuck around the entire first game without receiving further characterization.

The romance scenes? I'm a dork for this kind of thing, but I thought the romance arc with Tali was very well-done, if only for the interaction with her character that occurs during her loyalty mission and beyond. Again, avoiding spoilers, but the Paragon right-click button thing on the Flotilla was absolutely perfect, a realization of her friendship with Shep and a masterful way to draw the player right into the emotion of the moment.

It helps, of course, that I enjoyed her character in the first game, and I suspect that could be the trick to it all. I can't imagine taking as much away from ME2 if I hadn't gamed like hell the week before to get a ME1 save file ready. Like Tom, I went straight from the first to the second, and was pleasantly surprised to see so many familiar faces even just a few hours into the game.

Therein lays the strength of the writing, and the only reason I'm all over the place right now trying to talk it up. Sure, the main plot comes across disjointed and out-of-time, but the trip itself is an absolute blast if you have any kind of attachment to the universe. Characters from the first game (Liara, Kaiden, Ashley excluded) factor in greatly to that feeling, but even sneaking a look at the YouTube videos of all the different romance plots shows that Bioware has done impressive work to make you feel something for its characters.

I also might be a great blubbery fanboy, and will likely retract all of this within a week. The post-game high hasn't faded yet, admittedly, but I can't even remember the last time I felt something like this, so that has to count for something.

Konork: Just so you know, the main reason why the Alliance can't send anyone to take care of the colony attacks is because those colonies are in the Terminus system, which is very specifically non-Council space. Some of the colonists went there to avoid the Alliance, so they can't take action fast enough or keep a close enough eye on them. Also, depending on the conversation options, Shepard can make it very clear he/she doesn't trust Cerberus, but he/she's only helping because they're doing something about the abductions. It also seems like Cerberus is mainly just funding the mission. You aren't given a lot of things that Cerberus really forces you to do, and the Illusive Man specifically says, if you do what I assume is mainly paragon stuff, that wasn't the way he would do it, but it works

Chijts: ME and ME2 are still the only RPGs where I actually want to talk NPCs.

EGTF: Ok, I was working on a trainer for you guys but as it's still imperfect I've got a quick and easy solution to mineral mining woes. So listen in if you want to avoid any more mineral mining and get back to headbutting Krogan.

1) Go and download http://www.cheatengi... ...ne.org/ (you might have to disable your anti-virus for a little bit whilst downloading and installing the programme, whilst running it's fine to put them back up but they don't like some aspects of the programme. The programme itself is safe mind).

2) Load up ME2, (preferably on the ship after you have access to upgrades and are able to afford at least one) then alt+tab out and open cheatengine, go to icon in the top left of the programme (a little computer monitor) and open the process of Mass Effect 2.exe.

3) Now go back to ME2, press escape whilst playing and you'll be able to see how much of each mineral you have. In my case I was pretty spent and had 4399 Palladium, 5066 Iridium, 9797 Platinum and a measley 341 Element Zero. Make a note.

4) Now in cheat engine, it should default to exact value, 4 bytes, and above that is a white bar for input. Put in how much of whatever resource you want to change first (lets say my Platinum at 9797) and click First Scan. It'll scan and a list of hits will come up, take note there are multiple addresses but only one is the correct one. For me it was a massive list of about 30 or so matches.

5) Now, that's a heck of a lot. We don't want to start changing random values unless you want to put your Shepard through an end of the matrix situation.

To narrow that down the best way I've found is to go and buy an upgrade and take note of your now deduced mineral amount. Go back to cheat engine and find the value that has changed to your current resources. I bought a small upgrade of 2500 to take it down to 7297 so was easily able to find the value affecting resources.

6) Time to avoid the interesting yet eventually tedious mining minigame!

Double click the correct address for the mineral you chose. It should jump down into the box at the bottom of cheatengine. Now hover your mouse over the value, double click, and a box will come up to adjust the value. I made mine 9000000. Go back to ME2, press Esc to jump out of menu and esc again to jump back in, and check to see if the value has changed. Did it work? If so you're a bonified cheater my friend! If it hasn't you probably had the same problem as me, in that I found there were two values that changed to my reduced mineral and only through first altering one and changing it back when it didn't work did I find the true one.

7) Now here is where note-taking comes in to avoid endlessly repeating step 5 in full. Take a look at the address for your altered mineral and note the digits. It'll be like 0E382429, 27135135 and such, of which there will be multiples with similar starts. For my platinum it was 1291202C, of which you'll want to take a note.

8) Now click New Scan, and do the same for iridium (5066 in my case). A new list of addresses will come up, it may or may not be larger. What you're looking for here is addresses with similar beginning digits, so some judgement is required. The addresses are almost exactly the same, with only up to 4 digits separating them (4-8-C in hexadecimal). You are looking for practically the same thing. In my case, iridium and palladium were both exactly the same apart from the last digit; Iridium been 12912024. Now just repeat step 4 and 6 for each mineral to verify and voila, unlimited minerals!

I saved my game IN A SEPARATE FILE just in case, and it's safe to shut cheat engine down after altering. If you want you can use it to similarly adjust your Credits, and even take this know-how and apply it to other single player games with resources.

IMPORTANT NOTE - The addresses of the minerals change each time you load up a game, which is why I can't give you my codes and why my trainer is a failure so far. You need to reverse engineer the game to find out all the variables, rather than a trainer that works only 1/1000.

That was a bit wordy, but I hope it helps or you found it interesting.

Emlyn: Very interesting article, it's nice to read a well thought out review. But there are some points I disagree with so I've given my views.

Cerberus: First of all, you are offered a chance to become a specter again. Secondly, as has been pointed out you are operating in the Terminus sector where both the Alliance and the Council have no jurisdiction. It is also mentioned that the Alliance suffered heavy losses and are still rebuilding. Because of this, you need someone to support you and Cerberus fills that role. You don't have to like them, but you do need funding. You are absolutely right that it makes no sense for you not to at least talk to the Alliance, I suspect this was removed due to the fact that they couldn't help anyway. As for your suggestion to replace them with the Alliance, it would remove all tension from your choice whether or not to destroy the station.

Threat: Definitely the weakest point in the game. However I disagree that the collectors aren't terrifying. A massive swarm sweeps down, immobilizing an entire colony leaving the people awake and then being taken away and melted down? That seems pretty terrifying to me. Sure the collectors themselves aren't very terrifying, but short of the actual reapers nothing in ME's universe has been.

Two years: Personally, I'm mixed on this one. Some of the reunions where spot on, such as Wrex's and Talis. Garrus was great, as soon as I saw the blue armored turian shooting I couldn't wait to meet him again. Kaiden's (Ashley died for mine) meeting was probably the most mixed. He already new I was alive and his reaction seemed in character with what I'd seen from the first. Yes his initial welcome was a little cold but he knew your were working for Cerberus. He makes his dislike of your choice quiet clear in what I thought was an interesting conversation. Liar's let me down the most. The initial greeting was good and while I didn't expect anything during her quests (in fact I liked her character progression) I at least thought there would be some parting gesture.

Alignment: Honestly I didn't have a single issue to the system. Even with the bonus I still never filled the first renegade bar and maxed paragon. Besides, just because the choice is open doesn't mean you have to choose it.

Squad: The only point I wish to make here is that offering the player the ability to change at mission start is nice due to the fact that there are some times when you do want to change such as with the plague, I didn't want Garrus then but I had him in my party. It's a minor load that removes the massive hassle of running back to your ship.

DoctorDisaster: OK, I only got a couple of hours in, so I'm eligible for a couple of spoiler sections but still mostly avoiding the comments. However, I do want to add to my earlier post:

Re: Cerberus — This annoys me, too. It makes perfect sense that if Udina ended up on the Council you would have really limited aboveboard resources. Anderson, however, should at the very least offer the same sort of to-hell-with-the-regs assistance he could be relied upon to deliver in the first game, only with way more resources. Even from Cerberus's point of view, this makes no sense. The whole point of resurrecting Shepard is her symbolic value as an exemplar of humanity. To subsequently bury her in black-ops skullduggery with no public profile is ridiculous.

Re: "The Illusive Man" — I think what makes this title particularly irritating is the homophone. They're not saying he's hard to capture (and how everyone knows that without the name ever being written down, I have no idea), which would actually make sense. No, they're saying that he's a trick of the eyes. Unless he's an AI or something, this makes no sense. Even if he is an AI, it still doesn't make sense unless everyone knows he's an AI. Which they shouldn't, because he's so elusive. With an E.

Re: Archangel — (SPOILERS IF YOU HAVEN'T RECRUITED HIM) I really, really, REALLY hope that the disfigurement is a direct result of my not braining the mechanic with the spanner. Even though I only missed the braining because I hadn't wanted to renegade-interrupt yet and thought both interrupts were triggered by right-click, I love the idea that being a little too scrupulous can have dire consequences. Taking the Aunt-May route and inflicting the fallout on the team is particularly vicious and brilliant. If anyone brained the guy and Garrus still suffered, don't tell me; it'll ruin my good mood.

Fridge Raider: By and large I agree with this. I disagree with the reasoning behind the Council/Alliance not being able to get involved however.

The colonies being abducted were in the Terminus Systems (i.e. outside Council space). Since the council has no jurisdiction here they could not get involved, and it would also make sense that with the Alliance part of the Council they were prevented from sending ships in to investigate. Not only this but everyone is ignoring the reality of the Reapers except for Cerberus. That means that to investigate this threat to humanity you have to join up with Cerberus, despite your unsavoury past with them.

I kind of agree with the about the threat seeming smaller than in the first game, but then I always had a problem with ME1 in the way that you could do so many side missions before ever worrying about the main plot. I mean think about it, you're trying to stop all life in the galaxy being eliminated again, and you're buggering off to the Moon (Luna) to take care of some stupid VI. I'm sorry, but that's a serious case of getting your priorites wrong.

From a personal standpoint I didn't really care too much about the heatsink ammo thing as it encouraged me to use different weapons in order to conserve 'ammo' (instead of just using the pistol or shotgun exclusively in ME1).

The loyalty system seemed a bit contrived, but it served to give desired backstory into the characters. I found myself getting genuinely upset when I ran out of new dialogue. Apart from Jacob and Miranda (who I didn't really care for) I found the characters compelling.

On the whole, the combat was much better and required more tactical thinking than the first. I didn't miss the Mako and only found cover a problem when it would seemingly leave it for no reason.

I missed some of the inventory management from ME1. I think a balance between the two would be better.

I can't wait for Mass Effect 3. Some of this game seems like it's just the required stepping stone between 1 and 3, but I still thoroughly enjoyed playing it and am eager to know how the story arc ends.

Tom Francis: Yeah, it's not that I didn't understand what the game was telling me, I just didn't find it convincing. The man who punched Udina in the face to send you straight into the Terminus systems in the last game now outranks everyone in this sector of the galaxy, and this time he won't lift a finger.

The Alliance and the Council won't send one ship to the Terminus systems to investigate because it might start a war - despite the fact that you did exactly that in the last game, and it didn't.

The Alliance finally gain the galactic respect they've been fighting for when one of their own saves the entire galaxy, and they decide to assume their hero is lying about one arbitrary part of the story, a part they saw with their own eyes.

No-one believes in the Reapers, despite the fact that the last guys who didn't believe me about the Reapers were very publicly killed by a Reaper.

Matt, that's what I mean about the writing. It's good, just not as good as Mass Effect 1. The script is fine, and as you say that comes out best in the character stuff that isn't strictly related to the main plot. But they have to contort so much of this galaxy, and rehash themes of disbelief and torpor that were getting ridiculously old by the end of the first game, all to shoehorn in a Cerberus angle that feels frustrating to the player and never pays off. You keep having to take the Illusive Man's word for things, and the most rebellion you're afforded is to momentarily question his orders before you agree to obey them. These guys killed my whole squad (Sole Survivor) and I'm not even allowed to say "Fuck you." Am I going to work for the Reapers next if they patch me up?

Max raised the fair point that the story is personal, since the Collectors kinda killed you. That happens in the intro - anything that happens in the intro happened to Shepard, not me. I'm just watching at that point. It explains why my character cares, but it doesn't make me care.

cixelsyD: It reminds me a bit of Harry Potter 6 where no one believes Voldermort is back because they're scared shitless. It's a bit more believable I think if the council lives cause they were always a bunch of pansies.

SPOILERS:

The thing about the plot I didn't get at the end was whether the master collector was being controlled by another collector or a reaper. They sorta looked similar on the hologram. (The part where the guy goes "You have failed, we will find another way") Also, how does Shepard know more are coming? Those points sorta confused me.

Matt M.: Complete agreement, then - my post-game euphoria has faded a bit, leaving room for some niggling concerns about the main plot to creep in.

Captain Anderson's character irked me the most, I think. You've already nailed it, so I won't rehash what has been said, but I still can't believe how little conversation the guy was afforded. This is the same man that put himself in danger to help you in the first game, right? So why is it that I can't talk to him about what I'm doing? About my suspicions with Cerberus? Why is it that he has absolutely nothing new to say after I've saved the galaxy yet again and done more than the Alliance ever could to save the Terminus colonies?

It's hard to swallow, if anything, and a bit insulting if you take it further. His character had room for so much more development. Why not have him double as your inside guy on the Alliance? Sure, you're working with the 'bad guys,' but the man's infallible loyalty to Shepard in the first game seems to vanish in an instant.

Disappointing, to say the least. I genuinely liked his character first time around, but it seems Bioware burned more bridges than necessary trying to shelter the old cast and crew from the 'suicide' mission of the sequel. Here's hoping Anderson rediscovers his stones for the finale.

Any thoughts on letting you take your character past the ending, Tom? Supposedly you can keep playing to wrap up any unfinished missions or future DLC, but the fact that absolutely nothing changes in the universe rubs me wrong. Sure, your surviving squad members get a few new lines, but it seems strange to build up the suicide mission as a Big Freaking Deal and then show little to no impact when you get back.

I'd like to call it a massive missed opportunity for more plot resolution, but I'm also guessing there's a pretty compelling reason why they didn't pad it out any further. Just, uh, can't figure out what that is, aside from time constraints.

At least give me another conversation with Tali. :( It could be as simple as "What do you want to do now?" "Vacation?"

Colton: Wow, your like my evil opposite, dude the planet scanning was god fucking BORING, just the scanning, think they could make that better.

Colton: the writing wasnt great, but it wasnt overcollosused by mass effect 1. Rember, the second movie or games story is most of the time the worst out of a trilogy.

Bret: Like Empire Strikes Back or Godfather 2.

Or Aliens.

Ah, wait. Hm.

It seems Colton was the evil Colton!

Dante: I've only played a little so far, but to be honest I don't really agree that the writing is worse.

While the plot itself seems a little less engaging than the original, the dialogue between followers is significantly better. Of the original companions only Wrex really stood out, while the sequel boasts excellent characters in Mordon, Thane and a vastly superior version of Garrus.

Jossoy: "I’d squirm to watch someone else play as their Shepard."

This really hit home to me, as I was thinking the exact same thing. Watching a friend play his character on an xbox after I finished an incredible run as my FemShep was simply infuriating, and it didn't all have to do with the fact that I really dislike the male Shepard's voice. It was like someone else had killed the real Shepard (mine) and put this fake one in its place, and nobody seemed to notice the difference.

To be honest, I wasn't even the biggest fan of Mass Effect 1- I felt the plot was a little forced. The sequence where you are inducted into the spectres felt empty to me because they didn't really do a good job of making me feel humbled by the honor of becoming one, other than saying "The spectres? but they can go anywhere and do anything!" That, though, is very much a Bioware tradition- I felt the same about the Grey Wardens, and the Jedi only worked because, well, they're Jedi. Even people like me who aren't huge star wars fans have known who they are for the longest time.

I really didn't care about Saren, either. After he threw a big hissy fit at the beginning of the game when the first thing went wrong I lost respect for him as a villain. In fact, the only way I was able to make it through the game was by making an evil psycho-bitch who didn't give a damn really about the main plot, and i started having fun. Then, when I brought that character into the second game, I found that I really liked all of my crew members and was able to move my character into more neutral territory, generally being paragon towards the crew and renegade towards everything else.

This is just a long way of enforcing what you said, that these Shepards aren't just bioware's characters, they're very much yours as well, and it's an experience I've never seen before in a game to this degree.

Jossoy: Dante- I think Joker sums up the new Garrus quite nicely, saying something along the lines of, "It's nice to see that Garrus has gotten the stick out of his butt, but now he's beating people to death with it."

DoctorDisaster: I've played much more, and gotten good enough with the combat system that the "use/sprint/jump/slide/cover" button has started to annoy. I think with the initial game's combat system, where you basically just took cover and then took potshots at the bum-rushing AI, it would have worked great, but it can be limited in the new game's combat.

I'm playing a Vanguard, for instance, and the charge power is fantastic. It gives you a huge incentive to dive right into the middle of the fight and raise hell. As a consequence, the Vanguard wears shields the way a sorority girl on spring break wears a bra; this naturally lends itself to furious fighting followed by a retreat to regroup. But the insistence on a single console-rific button makes what should be a totally natural combat rhythm impossible to achieve!

The situation: I'm behind enemy lines with my clip spent, glancing at my status bar and thinking, "oh, gee, is there a draft in here?"

What I want to do: run toward that handy half-wall; vault over it; and take cover on the other side.

What I have to do: run toward that handy half-wall; slide toward it like it's home base; lovingly lean up against the wall, whispering sweet nothings in its ear while enemies ruin the moment with a hail of hot lead; frantically mash the spacebar again because just holding it won't work; leap over the wall, landing in a completely unsafe standing position because apparently all I want to do is keep enemies from shooting at my precious designer space-boots; swipe the mouse desperately against the desktop because I need to turn around and STILL can't find the mouse sensitivity slider; run back toward the wall a little, thanks to Shepard's overly enthusiastic jumping; mash the spacebar a third time to actually take cover! Hooray!

I would really like to spread these actions over a couple of buttons at least. A sprint/leap/use button and a slide/crouch/cover button would certainly do the trick. To turn your sprint into a slide to cover, hit the cover button before you hit the wall. To take cover on the other side, wait until you're mid-leap before hitting the cover button. Fixed!

Dante: I know what you mean about the cover button, they basically just took the controls direct from Gears of War on that one, understandable considering how well that game did, but they should have considered the flaws a bit more.

I played a Vanguard as well (I think many did, purely for the awesomeness of Charge) I find charging into the melee is a poor idea (unless you learn Grunt's fortify ability) I prefer to pick isolated enemies at the edge of a group and use it to rapidly reposition myself on the battlefield.

Tom Francis: I endorse this system or systems. If two buttons is too much, despite every game ever having duck and jump, the one-button system I propose in the post should definitely have you land into cover if you release the spacebar while vaulting. I've run into that exact situation so much. Worse still, some bits of cover don't count as cover from certain sides: BioWare could not conceive that you would be this side of the fight.

Charge tactics: I'll hit any cluster of three or less. One guy gets slammed, the other two get shotgunned and punched: melee's really powerful.

Second time through, I'm playing an aggressive Infiltrator, using cloak to sprint up to people and smack them in the face. The damage bonus is glorious, I'm KO'ing Krogans.

This is not the first time I've built a character around being invisible and punching people.

Dante: I just reached the collector ship section myself, which is notable for giving you a bonus weapon. Although I was tempted by the super shotgun I instead went for the ability to use assault rifles, which has turned my Vanguard into an immensely versatile fighter. I can charge and shotgun up close or pull and rifle from a distance.

Tom Francis: I grabbed the Sniper at that point: taking out Heavies on balconies or other unchargable areas was my main weakness. When I get there with my Sniper-wielding Infiltrator, I'm definitely getting Shotguns.

O pile of weapons, we know not why you grant us new skill.

Dante: It is quite inexplicable isn't it?

Out of interest, what skill did you learn from your NPCs? I went for Jack's Warp Ammo, being the most versatile ammo power, and got the whole squad to use it.

Tom Francis: Fortify, evolved to Heavy Fortify. I buff before a fight, so when I Charge I have double shields to survive the crossfire, and can usually re-Fortify by the time they go down. You can see the visual effect in the Archangel spoiler shot.

Coyote Bongwater: Someone has already mentioned this, but your Cerberus spoiler link doesn't go anywhere.

I got pretty psyched about ME2 in the months leading up to its release, and actually picked it up at a midnight release party literally seconds after it hit store shelves. This has left me feeling ever-so-slightly let down by the whole thing. The voice acting is still superb - Jennifer Hale is, hands down, the best video game actress I've EVER heard - the writing is decent for the most part, and with a few exceptions the characters are interesting and easy to care about. However, the entire game felt...dumbed down, for lack of a better term. Everything was streamlined, shortened, and simplified, which is not necessarily a good thing. I especially hate the way they handled Charm and Intimidate. All of my ME1 characters generally ended up with about half Paragon and half Renegade, and it was nice having options from both sides of the Charm/Intimidate spectrum open to me. In the sequel, on the other hand, the skill was removed altogether and you simply got more Paragon options for being a Paragon and more Renegade options for being a Renegade, basically forcing you into trying to max out one or the other and railroading you down a certain path.

Tom Francis: Huh, I forgot about that because I tested it and it worked for me. Looking at the code, it was slightly different - try now, I've brought it in line with the others. It was a bookmark as well as a link, whereas the others are just links - I don't know why that would break it on any browser, but we'll see.

Replaying, the upgrades system is bothering me more. It's so lame, just text lists of abstract 10% boosts with arbitrary pre-requisites and no clear path to getting them. It takes real effort to make RPG elements unexciting to me: I love even basic stuff. It's just so joyless and mechanical here, and doesn't feel real.

I am playing around with weapon choice a bit more, though: the first Sniper rifle does remain useful if you're an Infiltrator, since your stealth damage bonus applies only to one shot.

Coyote Bongwater: Infiltrator is, by far, my favorite class in both games. I actually found the second sniper rifle to be utterly useless - sure, it fires faster, but what with the stealth damage bonus in the second game, if I need to use more than one shot on a humanoid enemy I was probably doing something wrong. Once I got to the Collector ship and upgraded to the ridiculously massive Widow rifle the game almost became too easy - even without the stealth damage bonus or a headshot it can still one-hit-kill almost every enemy in the game, often before they're even close enough to return fire. Get incendiary or armor-piercing ammo as an additional talent, upgrade your sniper rifle a bit, and you can just about one-shot Harbinger.

As for the upgrades, I would have liked them a lot more if there were detailed explanations of /why/ the upgrade provided a damage boost or whatever else was improved. There were brief little text blurbs, but nothing particularly interesting. Would have been awesome if upgrading a weapon actually caused a visual change as well, and even cooler if upgrades had drawbacks as well as advantages and could be swapped out.

Pattom: Question: I'm playing a Vanguard for my second game, and I've chosen to use Barrier as my special talent. Is there any benefit to using Fortification or Shield Boost instead, or do all three do essentially the same thing?

cixelsyD: Fortification is Armor based, Barrier is... barrier case so warp does extra damage to it.

Ludo: It's true, the upgrade system was pretty frustrating and didn't make much sense. Why do I need to have found the next damage upgrade to increase my clip size? Being unable to view your weapon stats makes that +10% damage figure pretty useless, too.

It also really bothers me that you can't buy weapons. It's odd that my crack team of the best and brightest in the galaxy, backed by the incredibly rich and shadowy Cerberus organisation are armed and equipped with stuff they happen to have found on the floor.

I played as an Infiltrator during my first playthrough and took Miranda's Slam ability to deal with charging Krogan and swarms of Husks. Like Coyote, I hardly used the second sniper rifle at all, mainly because when I shoot someone in the head with a sniper rifle I don't expect them to survive the experience. It was a lot of fun dealing with Husk swarms: slam one, noscope another with the rifle, cloak and escape, firing a parting shot while cloaked for maximum damage. I quite enjoyed ME1's combat, but it has been improved a lot for the sequel.

Coyote Bongwater: Not being able to buy weapons is especially bizarre considering that you can actually visit at least two gun shops over the course of the game, and in one of them you can overhear customers browsing their stock of guns and discussing which ones they should buy, and yet when you go to look at the kiosk suddenly the store only carries upgrades.

Of course, that's just a symptom of a greater problem: the lack of weapon variety. There are basically only two weapons in each class, plus the uber-powerful unique version you can get on the Collector ship. Generally speaking, the second weapon in each type completely obsoletes the first one, so for all practical purposes there's only /one/ weapon in each class.

Plasto Joe: Regarding DoctorDisaster's comment about Archangel, I also thought I screwed up when he got blasted by the gunship. I was trying to do all the sabotaging I could, but realized I missed one of the rooms after it was too late to go back. During the following cutscene when he's lying on the floor coughing up blood, I was desperately waiting for it to finish so I could reload my last save. Needless to say, I heaved a huge sigh of relief when I realized that was supposed to happen. I did get a chance to reload later though when I accidentally got Legion killed.

At the risk of sounding like a huge dork, I really REALLY like Tali after finishing this game. In the first, she had never really occurred to me as a romantic interest for Shepard. But in ME2, it seemed like Bioware put twice the effort into characterizing her than it did for anybody else in the first game. During the final romance dialogue, I had to "think about it" twice before deciding that my "canon" Paragon Shepard really should remain faithful to Ashley. And yet I found myself regretting this decision so much that I've decided to replay him and go for it. This is the only game I've played that has actually made me reconsider what would normally be a clear moral choice to me.

Tom Francis: My Shepard is sort of in romantic limbo. Liara clearly wants nothing more to do with me, but she won't give a good reason why and I'm not given the option to break it off or even ask if it's already over. Ashley is much more of a bitch when you meet her again, but I think if she was my romantic interest from the first I'd be more inclined to forgive a hissy fit about Cerberus - at least she has her reasons. With any of the three, though, you should be given the option to properly break it off - otherwise, offering new romantic interests creates an unhappy false tension: you're stuck in a bad relationship you want to break off, but the game won't give you the option so it's forcing you to miss out or be unfaithful.

I missed out, though since the two romantic options I stumbled into were to randomly say "I want you" in the middle of a polite discussion of someone's history, I don't feel I was missing much.

Tom Francis: I wish they'd stick to two love interests per game, both bi. Liara's not even a good character, but the slow and gentle way your relationship with her can evolve was touching, and ended up letting me give another side to my hard-ass Shepard that really rounded her out. They clearly bit off more than they could do justice to this time: with Thane and Garrus the proposition comes out of nowhere, and with Jacob the first kind thing you say to him is delivered like a pick-up line, which actually made me dislike my Shepard for the first time.

If they were only doing two per game, they could also afford to keep them up properly: one short quest to resolve any standing conflict with them, like Liara's, then they ask you to come back and see them before the final fight for a tastefully rendered sex scene.

Dante: Right, I've met every character but legion now, and here's my verdict:

The Great:

Mordin - Easily the funniest character in the game, yet also manages to be dark and moving in his loyalty quest. I really hoped for a Salarian companion after ME1 and Bioware delivered in spades. Plus, has everyone heard him sing?

http://www.youtube.c... ...S8cWUKliYk

Thane - They described Samara as a 'Warrior Monk' but Thane really does it better. His blend of spiritual, philosophy and cold blooded killing creates an excellent contrast. His loyalty mission also stands out for being entirely non-combat yet still good, especially the good cop/bad cop scene (you can actually keep hitting him and still get the info by the way).

Garrus - Garrus and Wrex were the best characters in ME1 by some distance, the bar has been raised for ME2, but Garrus has become even cooler in response. His recruitment mission is fantastic and I love the way he's been influenced by Shepard, even going so far as recruiting his own team in your absence. More than anyone else, Garrus seems to be your protege.

The Good:

Miranda - Yes she's a classical ice queen, but she's very well voice acted, and well animated to convey this. I seem to have run out of dialogue with her due to pursuing romance elsewhere, but she remains a good, if underused, character.

Tali - Tali got something of a cult following after the first game, I never got it myself, and I still don't. As a character she's slightly flat, but the insights she gives into Quarian culture are fascinating.

Subject Zero - I really didn't see myself liking Zero after that abominable trailer, but, to my own surprise, I've ended up in a romance with her. For all the front she's actually quite vulnerable, and certainly has justifications for her actions (having had a traumatic childhood to a factor of a thousand). The romance story, in which she struggles to deal with anyone caring for her at all, is really rather sweet.

The Meh:

Jacob - I don't think any of the ME2 characters are actively bad, but Jacob is just rather dull. He's essentially a carbon copy of Kaidan, only with anything marginally interesting (his tales from Jump Zero) taken away.

Samara - Maybe I just got her too late, but her flat delivery and spiritualism is all a bit old hat to me. Thane has a similar attitude, but does it much, much better.

Grunt - I can see what they tried to do with Grunt, and the idea of a clone trying to find understanding in the world is a decent one. The only problem is that he will always be in the shadow of Wrex who was hands down the best character in the first game, and I'd really rather see him back.

Dante: @ Pentadact

I actually found the way Liara's relationship developed to be odd and stilted, didn't really work for me. If you can't remember who your love interest was from the last game by the way you should have a picture of them in your quarters (which gets turned to the wall if you cheat on them).

Zero has a similar 'I want you' line, which considering how much she's been taken advantage of in her life seems a bloody horrific thing to say. To be honest female Shepards seem to have lost out in the romance stakes as while Garrus and Thane are great characters anyone who doesn't want to bonk an alien is left with Jacob. Romanceable Joker in the next game perhaps?

Finally, anyone who doesn't have a romance (and I understand why you wouldn't since you're cheating on your love interest from the first game) is missing on a great Mordin moment. The good doctor offers advice on inter-species relationships (or in my case, bringing biotics into the bedroom) including booklets, demonstrational videos and ointments.

EGTF: I'm just sad that now with the possibility of anyone dying in the final mission that Garrus and Tali won't be squad members in the third game. Unless Bioware do a retcon and make it so Garrus and Tali survived the final mission no matter what. But most of all that bloody option to kill Wrex in the first game means that he won't be popping up as a party member in the third one too. Otherwise, I think in the third after Thane's popped his clogs you'll probably get to recruit his son.

Oh and I was a bit miffed at Liara's reaction, but (SPOILER) she has an emotional breakdown at one point revealling the old Liara, and that her cold act is a front to her getting closer to strike at the shadow broker. (SPOILER END)

Plasto Joe: A good solution for the Ashley/Kaidan problem would have been to make the Renegade dialogue with them lead you towards a break-up, or perhaps only the Paragon dialogue keep it. Maybe stick a proper speech check in there too? In any case, I'm interested in a possible throwdown between Ashley and Tali. Ashley already seems threatened by anything alien; what will be her reaction once she sees I've cheated with one, much less one of the original Companions?

Only relationship thing I had a problem with was Jack's. There wasn't really a clear "yes I want you/no I don't" option in my dialogue, just kind of a "you're worth it/forget I said anything." My Paragon Shepard would rather have opened her up to romance with others without getting involved himself.

It was a little annoying that there's not much more dialogue you can have with characters after completing their relationship "quests." But it was a little funny to think I'd made the entire ship awkward after turning everybody down.

Dante: I too am worried about what the 'anyone can die' ending of ME2 means for returning companions, personally I want Garrus, Thane, Mordin and Wrex to return. I only hope they go for it anyway.

Chijts: For infiltrator I love the best sniper rifle you can get. I wish I had gone to recruit Tali sooner and upgraded my SMG though from that shitty 3 round burst pistol which they try to pass off as an SMG.

Tappity: tbh, im surprised you havent done a review of the AvP demo yet

Chijts: Also, If they are going to only give you 2-3 varieties of a gun then why not let me fiddle with the colours of it, like with your armor. Maybe they could make it so you could atleast see the changes some of your research has made too. If my shield is increased then make it look different when it's hit, if my gun accuracy has increased then whack a new sight on it.

Tom Francis: Tom's Aliens Vs Predator multiplayer demo review: I hate it. Thanks for reading Tom's Aliens Vs Predator multiplayer demo review!

Had no interest in the multiplayer anyway, but the five minutes I spent with the Alien controls were eight minutes too many.

Jazmeister: I'm actually much more interested in setting party members up for relationships than having one myself. I also hate that you can't have more than X party members in these games, especially for the purposes of dialogue where a given party member will only be able to comment on the proceedings and offer suggestions, solutions, and new dilemmas if they're actually there. So frustrating!

EGTF: I second that too Jaz. I remember in KOTOR 1 where you miss out a whole bunch of stuff with Bastilla and her mother if as soon as you land on Tatooine you don't have her in your party. Return to the planet later and walk out with Bastilla? Nope, that scene with her mother never happens.

I suppose it encourages 2nd playthroughs and such, but it leads to squadmate paranoia. A case of "Shit, who do I pick who will have the most interesting lines on this planet?". And when they turn out to not have many I feel dissapointed. Like the lack of interesting options that other characters will say on loyalty missions that aren't their own.- "You Shepard are her Commander and thus permitted to go with Tali on her mission. And I suppose you can bring some third guy along too who we won't mention so long as he doesn't interact in the quest at all."

Dante: I actually would like to see more stuff influenced by who you have with you. For instance I remember thinking with Thane's 'Good Cop, Bad Cop' scene, that it would have been awesome if I could tag Garrus in to play bad cop.

Tom Francis: Most of the interesting stuff they could do with squadmates is prohibited by the sheer number of squadmates they've given themselves. It must have been a herculean effort just to make sure every combination of the 10 can chime in at key plot moments without it sounding horribly wrong. Having squad members chime in or interact in any way means accounting for the combinatorial coefficient of 10-choose-2 different scenarios - forty-five different combinations. If they'd stuck to, say, five squadmates, that number would be down to 10.

If they halved the squadmates, they could afford to quadruple the level of interaction between them and their input on missions. They could also spend twice as long on their loyalty quests, perhaps finding a way to make them feel relevant to the main plot, so you don't end up feeling like you did 20 sidequests and four main missions.

Dante: On the other hand, the first game had half as many companions, and they were arguably weaker across the board.

Jazmeister: I'd be fine with less squadmates, but I think this sort of mad, infinite dialogue tree is the sort of thing Bioware should be surprising us with. I hate to sound entitled, and I can only imagine the pressure they'd be under to produce good-to-pretty-alright writing with plenty of shooty bang bang, but damnit - I feel that when I sit down to a Bioware game, I am entitled to some excellent writing. They're not id, you know? I don't want shadow calculations and lasers, I want to worry about people's feelings.

That was an odd sentence to write. Anyway, couldn't they get method actors to do a workshop with their characters and work out what they'd feel? Games are so front-loaded with the tech and the level design, I'm sure all that stuff is tacked on last. Is that just something we as gamers have to put up with? Story, writing, voice, it all gets stuck on the end?

:D

DoctorDisaster: I think lady-Shep's crappy options in ME2 are sort of an apology for man-Shep's crappy options in ME1. Ashley was a jerk, which made her an awesome character but a very weird choice for a romance, and Liara is the most boring being in the entire Mass Effect universe. ME1's lesbian option at least had novelty going for it, and Kaidan was certainly likable enough.

I ended up keeping my lady-Shep faithful. The reunion scene with Kaidan, and especially his e-mail later, were strong enough writing that I feel great about this choice. Now I'm starting a man-Shep who is going to bang his way from one side of the galaxy to the other.

I should also mention that I thought the reunion with Liara was hilarious. It's so obvious that the designers told the writers, "OK, Liara isn't going to be in this game, so give her something to do," and the writers sat back and scratched their heads and asked each other, "wait, what does Liara do other than hit on Shepard again?" They couldn't come up with anything, so they shoehorned her into a mismatched plot that was obviously designed for a totally different character.

One point about writing for many characters: a lot of the 'responses' third-wheel characters have during other people's arcs are just cleverly used stock phrases. I didn't actually notice this until later in the game, when I realized that an awful lot of what I was hearing from those third characters boiled down to "this is good/bad."

I think one efficient system for more multilateral conversations might be to add wheel options like "Garrus is going to want to hear about this" in appropriate scenes. After a quick fade out/in or Omni-tool hologram call, the most relevant characters can be brought into the scene even if you didn't bring them with you. This keeps things efficient for the writers and allows richer conversations for the players.

Lack_26: One thing I actually found quite annoying was that after switching the 'use/cover/sprint' button to Shift and the 'Pause Combat' button to Space-Bar, it still insisted on screaming at me to press the pre-set keys. e.g. ME2: 'PRESS SPACE BAR TO SPRINT!!!', Me: Erm, yeah, that's kind of the shift button now and it's called shift for a reason (shift yer' arse).

I still can't believe they managed to put those keys the wrong way round.

Plasto Joe: That was a big problem for me when it kept telling me to press "F" to end a mission. I reloaded at least once so I could exit as soon as the message box came up. It took a flash of genius for me to go to the Options menu, reset everything to default to see what "F" was originally assigned to, then set up all my binds again so I could click what turned out to be my melee button to end a mission.

Actsub: @SPOILERSPOILERSPOILERSPOILERSPOILERSPOILER@
Tom, I chose not to give the tech to Cerberus at the end and I got a fight with the giant skeleton thing. Are you sure it's not a matter of choice?
@SPOILERENDSPOILERENDSPOILERENDSPOILEREND@

ImpAtom: With regards to the weapons... well, I have to say you're wrong there. The difference in the damage between the fast-firing rifle and its counterparts is substantial. The Viper rifle (the quick one) is actually weaker then the hand cannon heavy pistol. The slow-firing one is somewhere around 3 times as powerful, which REALLY matters as an Infiltrator, especially on higher difficulties. The Widow, which you can get exclusively from the Collector Ship if you're already a Sniper, is somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 times more powerful and is generally capable of oneshotting almost anything... even Harbringer on lower difficulty levels.

The weapons appear to be straight upgrades at first glance, but if you investigate them further, you'll see that each has their strengths and weaknesses... although some are a bit wonkier then others. (The new DLC shotgun, for example, is rather flat-out superior, something I think is rather lame.)

Dante: There are a few differences, the original submachinegun for instance is far more accurate, while the hand cannon has quite a low clip size.

Pattom: @ImpAtom: I wouldn't entirely agree with your sentiment on the DLC shotgun. It's true that it does greater damage and is much more effective against shields. But I'm playing Vanguard, and I haven't had anywhere near the trouble other people have with the shotguns, so I find its much lower magazine size (3 shots vs. 5 shots with basic shotgun vs. 8 shots with the other upgraded shotgun) very distressing in close combat. Giving it to Tali or Jacob is a more effective use.

Rasmus Widengård: [DoctorDisaster:]

Wait, someone actually liked Kaidan?
Huh.

Dr. Disaster: @Rasmus Certainly not my favorite character, but yes, I think he's likable. I was worried they were going to overdo the "woe is me I was abused as a jedi youngling" angle (*cough*Jack*cough*), but it was actually pretty unobtrusive.

@Pattom The magazine size doesn't cause me as much trouble as the incredibly low firing speed, but I think it's an appropriate tactical challenge to make up for the ridiculous damage it does.

Lack_26: To be honest, none of the other weapons mattered once I got the (heavy?) machine gun, that with maxed out inferno rounds, and the ability to have adrenaline on half of the time (with -50% dmg to self) made me a pretty deadly proposition to enemies.

Also, Dominate is great as the learnable power, maxed out for the group effect it insta kill husks and is great for sowing confusion amounst the enemy. The often run around the cover and face the dominated people behind them, so I can get a clear shot.

Dante: Kaidan wasn't as bad as people made out, and he's certainly more interesting that Jacob.

I quite liked his whole "Yeah I totally accidentally killed my drill sergeant in biotics training, no biggie"attitude.

Tom Francis: ImpAtom: fair cop, I hadn't played Infiltrator when I wrote this, and I've since discovered that the way that class works makes the differences between the first two sniper rifles more meaningful. I wish that were the case for more weapons, and more classes: I'd actually like it if the DPS for all weapons of a certain class was fixed, and only the pattern and manner in which that damage is delivered varied.

I hated Kaidan enough from his first few lines that I never gave him the chance to say more than his first few lines, and got him killed as quickly as possible. It's interesting to hear his reunion conversation is good in ME2, though, cause Ashley's is awful. My second character is a new man-Shep, and the game assumes Ashley survived. She hates you without asking any relevant questions about your motives, and you're given no dialogue options to meaningfully explain yourself to her, and she somehow ends up thinking you're responsible for the abductions she just watched the Collectors commit. Often my issue with the writing in ME2 is not what's being said to me, but the glaring omissions in my options for response.

EGTF: There should just be a dialogue wheel option at anytime in any conversation to punch someone in the face, rather than occasional prompts every now and again. ME2 review score +5%.

cixelsyD: Yeah the conversation option with Ashley/Kaiden that annoyed me was the 3 equivilant choices of "you won't see the truth" " you don't understand" "go away". I guess it would have been hard to introduce all those new squadmates if you had to catch up on the old ones. They might have done it because they wanted ME2 to be somewhat standalone. They didn't want someone in there constantly referencing to personal history that was found out during ME1.

It was sorta obvious who would be in your squad from ME2 from ME1. No potential love interests, beacuse if you let one in, you'd have to let all into your squal in ME2. So that rules out Ashley, Kaiden and Liara. Wrex could have died on Virmire so he's a no go, that leaves Garrus and Tali. I was happy with that, I liked Garrus' ME1 side quest a lot.

I actually liked Kaiden a lot, maybe it's nostalgia for Carth in KOTOR. Couldn't stand Ashley though, especially with the poetry.

Dante: I can't see what'd put you off Kaidan Tom, the worst thing about him is his inoffensiveness. If you do talk to him the throughout he reveals how harsh his training was, and how he gets constant migraines from his implants. The thing I liked about him was that he didn't angst about it, he's probably the most well adjusted character in the ME universe.

Ashley on the other hand I had a similar experience to you with, her later dialogue is actually very interesting, but her first lines make her sound like a space Nazi, so most of us told her to shut the hell up.

MartinJ: It is my firm belief that in Mass Effect 3, you play as Joker! He's the only member of the crew that ALWAYS survives!

Plumberduck: Recently replayed ME1 with the most evil, kill-em-all Female Shepard I could put together, and her relationship wth Kaidan was really the only redeeming quality the character had. I didn't like him my first time through the game, but he really grew on me.

Mordin is the second greatest character Bioware's ever made (after HK-47). Relentlessly funny and smart, and his loyalty mission set the bar all the others tried to reach. The Krogan genophage is one of the most interesting parts of the Mass Effect universe, and I don't think it's coincidental that both Wrex and Mordin, my favorite ME characters, are so closely linked to it. It's the sort of thing that would appear on a REALLY good Star Trek episode, and the fact that Bioware has thought through every side of the argument is to their credit.

Also, yes, Mordin singing is the best thing ever.

Rasmus Widengård: While the limited choices you were given in the dialogue wheel were frustrating, I was actually pretty pleased to see Ashley storm off after the brief reunion.
Gave my maleshep an excuse to chat up Jack; who by the way has far more depth than people seem willing to admit.
In fact, other than Miranda, Grunt and Jacob -- ME2 has a rather grand supply of intriguing characters.

Plumberduck: Oh, another thing. I have never been a huge fan of the "hold up-and-right on the stick to always be nice" convention on the dialogue wheel. I get why it's there; the Mass Effect dialogue system isn't built to let you choose exactly what you're going to say, so having a set "type" of response at each point on the wheel means you're not going to be confused by the truncated choices you're given. But it still makes moral choices WAY too easy, since if I'm confused about what to do I can just go with good ol' reliable up-and-to-the-right.

I feel like there are a few situations in ME2 where that's handled better, where being a Paragon really isn't the best thing to do in terms of everybody being happy, but it's still nearly as irritating as the fact that the "skip dialogue" button and the "choose next dialogue option" button are the same button. Are they punishing me for not wanting to listen to every single second of the voice acting? God, that's irritating.

Mickiscoole: WARNING: THIS COMMENT MAY CONTAIN TRACES OF SPOILERS

I loved how during Mordin's mission when the krogan leader is giving his big long speech about how he is going to rule the galaxy and the entire speech it gave you the option to shoot the gas pipe under him.
It used up all my willpower to resist left clicking.

Re: The Illusive Man, all the characters in the second book which deals with him just refer to him as "the Man"

I loved during my encounter with ashley where she said something along the lines of "I'm no fan of aliens, but Cerberus has a history of being extremists."

I can just tell some of my actions are going to have repurcussions that make me unhappy in the third game. Letting that criminal racist politician live during Thane's mission was one. Pissing off Martin Sheen another.

Dr. Disaster: Kaidan is hurt that you didn't bother getting in contact with him, then he gets pretty pissed about the whole Cerberus thing (which had me going, "Yes! I'm pissed too!"), then he sends you an e-mail apologizing for getting mad and saying you meant a lot to him. Micki has a point that "pissed about Cerberus" would make a lot less sense coming from Ashley. I have to say, though, that her abrasiveness is a lot of what made her interesting, and anything less would seem kind of artificial. I'll have to sit through the scene myself to get a better idea.

+1 to all the Mordin love. He's great in every way.

Plumberduck, I agree that on the choices that are a little more vague, I'd like to see the wheel scrambled. I do have to say that when some options will continue the conversation and others will explore this part in more detail, the left/right divide is essential. But once or twice, presenting you with a binary decision and placing the P/R choices at left and right worked fairly well.

Rasmus, I actually had the opposite problem with Jack. Her performance aspects — the modeling, animations, and voice acting — were so well done that I thought I saw a nuanced character below the "boo hoo I was abused as a jedi youngling; feel sorry for me" surface. So I kept at her and eventually cracked past that, only to find myself in "boo hoo I was abused later too; feel sorry for me" land. The fact that all the many layers of "boo hoo I was abused feel sorry for me" stories end with "and then I KILLED THEM ALL" doesn't help. It's really bass-ackwards for Bioware to have a character whose writing doesn't live up to her performance, but there you go.

Tom Francis: THE YOUNGLINGS!

Agreed about Jack's model - I think she has one of the best human faces in the game, outside of a good custom Shepard. If she wore her unlockable tank top as the default getup, instead of dungaree-bra, she'd look cool.

Did her loyalty mission on my second playthrough, but haven't pursued a romance. The revelation that she didn't have it as bad as the other kids was an interesting one.

Rasmus Widengård: [Dr. Disaster:] I don't know, I thought they constructed a rather fine psychological profile for Jack.
It's exaggerated to the umpteenth degree, of course. But whether you like it or not, the dilemmas she describes speak of a quite belieavable form of trauma.
- If only considered in the context of the game, I grant.
But I think Bioware should be commended for portraying in Jack how sexuality devoid of emotional input could potentially be a quite destructive force.
I mean, how often are you treated with a deliberate reflection on those issues in games? The only real examples I can think of are "The Path" and "Silent Hill".

Rasmus Widengård: Oh, what Bioware SHOULDN'T be commended for however is how they keep treating homosexuality as though it's a thoroughly foreign concept.
People, a few stray moments of Sapphic eroticism isn't enough.
Lucid man on man lovin', or no dice.

Plumberduck: Hey, Dragon Age has man-on-man. I was NOT expecting my male Grey Warden to be bi, but it sure happened. Then I watched some sports movies, and ate a steak.

Dagda: Alot of your points regarding Cerberus don't hold water, at least in my estimation.
"The premise of the game has you working for someone you don’t like or trust, for no real reason."
This person brought you back to life at extreme expense and is giving you a top-of-the-line ship and crew, treats you like royalty, and rewards you handsomely for helping their cause without forcing you to do so. Their support is being given to you so that you can address an issue no one else is going to do something about, one that most flavors of Shepherd would want to fix regardless of the personal rewards.

Minimal interaction with the Alliance and the Council matches the theme of the game- a change from (as I like to put it) the "high" sci-fi of ME1 to "low" sci-fi, shifting focus away from the polished utopia of the first game in a number of ways. The reasons you're (initially) given for them not taking sufficient action (red-tape inefficiency and non-interference policies in matters that only concern one species) are decent, even if they're done as handwaves.

Dagda: (Continuing) I'm all of 10 hours into the game, so there's still much to be seen. I certainly hope I'll be able to come across and confront the human supremacist elements of Cerberus (however deep that goes), but it makes complete sense that I wouldn't yet have come across them- the Illusive Man is doubtless working over time to paint as sunny a picture of the organization to Shepherd as he can believably do. It's almost certainly random theorizing on my part, but I wonder if Subject Zero's background mission was something he planned for- a way to reinforce the idea that the the sinister Cerberus projects you saw in the first game were just deranged rogue elements he didn't approve of. If Jack's confusion about the events of her breakout is a hint that the recordings and "fellow survivor" were planted fakes, I will adore Bioware to end.

Forgive me if I'm retreading ground already covered in this comment thread I dare not yet read.

Tom Francis: Ha, that would be ace.

I don't agree with your reasons to like/trust/work with Cerberus, though. If this was a game about a US pilot nearly killed when his plane was shot down in Iraq, and an Al-Queda operative gave him CPR, it's still hard to see him signing up to work with them. Even if they gave him a fancy new plane and swore they wanted Saddam captured too. In particular, it would feel completely bizarre to have free roam and open communications but no option to report to your military - just the ability to swing by Brussels to be told NATO is now powerless.

MartinJ: I don't think it's that simple. Comparing Cerberus to Al-Queda is far-fetched. Cerberus is an organization that has practically the same goals as the Alliance but isn't afraid to get it's hands dirty, and also looks for some degree of personal/organization profit.

Rasmus Widengård: Perhaps so, but the issue remain that Shepard has a personal history with Cerberus; especially if one chose to play as a Sole Survivor.
I think that's actually my major gripe with the game as a whole - even though the most traumatic experience of your entire life was due to an experiment generated by Cerberus, you're never really allowed to vocalize your frustrations for being at their mercy.
At best you can behave a bit prissy in front of Martin Sheen, but there's no consequence or reward to be extracted depending on what your attitude is.
To me it feels as though Bioware wanted to make the game far more accessible than it's predecessor, at the expense of those of us who played and nurtured the original experience.

P.S
Seriously, they need to patch the dialogue with Jacob. Or something along those lines.
The first thing my femshep said to him was basically the verbal equivalent of a dry hump!
I subsequently reloaded the game and ignored him for the duration of the mission.
D.S

MartinJ: No I definitely agree and personally I believe the whole story is just laughable. The thing that kept me going with ME2 was the characters, not the story. I mean, the final boss? SERIOUSLY?

DoctorDisaster: The problem is that Cerberus has been too thoroughly established as evil. If it was indeed "an organization that has practically the same goals as the Alliance but isn't afraid to get its hands dirty" — the Han Solos of the ME universe — that wouldn't be a problem. But we're talking about people who unleashed rachni on isolated colonies, tried to create thorian-hypnotized slave races, and tortured and traumatized several members of your crew INCLUDING SHEP! Every non-Geth atrocity you came across in the first game was either Cerberus, ExoGeni, or a combination of the two.

The problem is that a "handwave" that works for some characters won't work for a player character who has a lot of agency. It's not a problem for Garrus to leave C-Sec for reasons we never directly see. Same goes for Jacob leaving the Alliance, Miranda leaving her father, and so on. We wouldn't expect to see all this stuff ourselves, so the handwave works. But you can't do the same trick with the player character.

First of all, Shep's a Spectre, so "red tape" doesn't even fit the fiction. They're only accountable for results, and the first game goes to great lengths to establish this. Second, Shep's obstacles should be the player's obstacles. Have the fleet brass say they'll only take you back if you remove all aliens from your crew, give up the new Normandy, and leave active duty for a period of monitoring to make sure you're not an impostor, and suddenly it's perfectly understandable that the game doesn't make that an option. Without that kind of visible problem with the plan, just not offering the option feels like an artificial constraint.

Rasmus & Plumberduck: While I liked to see Dragon Age offer some broader romantic options, I've got to say that Zevram felt like a one step forward, two steps back situation. He was so aggressive about his interest that it got a little creepy at times. My character had better chemistry with Shale.

Dante: To be honest, could they not just have not called them Cerberus? I mean, people act like you wiped them out in ME1 anyway, would it have been so hard to give them a new name? Or connect them to Terra Firma instead?

Dante: On Jack's character design:

I didn't like it at all at first, her tiny size and delicate bone structure didn't seem to fit with the whole badass convict attitude, but when you get her whole backstory you realise that that's the point. You can see that she was once a small, pretty, scared little girl, all this tough criminal stuff has been layered on top of it, but that's still there underneath.

On Bioware and homosexuality:

They may be a bit awkward about it, but seeing as no-one else will touch it with a barge pole you have to give them some sort of credit.

The really odd thing is that I've yet to meet anyone in a Bioware game who is actually gay. Straight or Bi are the only options (except for possibly the PC in Dragon Age, with the right dialogue choices).

Lack_26: @Dante, on character sexuality.

Things like that annoy me slightly, I wish Bioware would make a well made gay character, if anyone is going to do it, it'll be them. You still have to applaud them for moving towards it, I guess.

I think they got Jacks character design about right really, she was a surprisingly good character (well, from our views of her from the initial videos anyway).

Dante: A friend and I were knocking ideas around for an alternative to Cerberus, and we hit upon the idea that you're still a Spectre, but the council wants you assigned elswhere and you have to go rogue to enter the Terminus Systems.

The Illusive Man is still around, but now he's and agent of the Shadow Broker (with the subtle implication that he may be the broker himself) and is feeding you information.

In fact most of the plot works much better if you simply replace 'Cerberus' with 'The Shadow Broker'. It gives the same unsavoury reputation, but works much better as a necessary evil, and you don't have a personal hatred of them. It could also have interesting implications with your reunion with Liara.

Plasto Joe: Perhaps the root of the problem with Cerberus lies in the first game, rather than the second. In ME1, Shepard's only encounters with Cerberus came from a handful of side quests tangentially related to the main plot as an excuse to let you fight some of the more exotic monsters outside the major worlds. What Bioware could've done was introduce Cerberus in the second game and slowly reveal the more questionable parts of their history throughout the game, especially during the trust missions. They'd have to be tweaked a little to give you that little niggling of doubt, but not a whole lot.

Examples: Jack's backstory and quest could be pretty much left alone; Jacob's quest could have Cerberus intentionally bringing down his father's ship on that planet; Tali's quest could have Cerberus intentionally sabotaging the Migrant Fleet after their botched run-in that's referred to but never mentioned. Their involvement wouldn't ever have to be confirmed, but maybe an artifact or bit of information found could cast a little bit of doubt.

They could also have you keep a balance between your Cerberus crewmates' trust and your other allies'. It would make keeping everyone's loyalty a bit more challenging and the game (and achievement) more satisfying if you managed to complete it with everyone alive.

Tom Francis: The Council's endless distrust of your intel, refusal to support your missions and limitless cowardice screwed you at every turn in Mass Effect, almost to the point of comedy. I think any repeat of that over-used trope just feels ridiculous and lazy in ME2. I would accept nothing less than their total obedience. If I have a lead on the Reapers, the only possible response from my superiors is "Shit, Shepard, you saved the entire galaxy and everyone who doubted you was killed by the thing you were warning them about. Here's a Normandy MK2, do what you must."

I also just get nothing from this arrangement of 'Ooh, you've got to work with X, but is X really trustworthy?' - whatever you call X. Because I'm not being given the option to trust them or not: I'm not allowed to do anything about having two of their officers aboard, or about acting on their guidance even after it transpires they're lying to me. So there's no tension or uncertainty: the game is forcing me to do these things, if they backfire it's on the game.

I'm not suggesting they try a branching plot, I'm just saying don't base your plot on a tension that needs one if you can't afford to do one.

Rasmus Widengård: Oh, and Harbinger may have been a major ass during the course of the game, but he's quickly become the source of my favourite internet meme.

mass effect 2 | malvasia bianca: [...] Tom Francis just goes through it point by point. [...]

Legion: Did anyone else bring Legion to the Migrant Fleet? When the squad selection screen came up I felt it was completely in my FemShep's character to say, "Oh hey there Legion, say why don't you tag along? This should be fun."

You get a few nice dialog bits, including one very much like your Noveria entrance except more personally and politically complicated.

Alex Saunders: Best character is ME2 is hands down legion. I just was amazed at getting a geth team mate (the equivalent to me of getting a darkspawn teammate in dragon age origins) and actually learning that there is more to the geth than the stereotyped kill all organics that the first game leveled onto them

LeSwordfish: I got legion last, and by the time i'd done his mission, i was so much itching to finish the game that i never bothered to get to know him. In the end, legion got comprehensively SHAFTED by me.

It's all because of Tali. Tali was so fantastic that i chose her over legion in their argument (didnt even TRY to calm them both down.) and then picked legion to go into the vents, to keep Tali safe. Course, this meant legion was killed.

I actually really genuinely hope that this has big ramifications. Politically, i imagine that the death of a get representative might be big and nasty. I bloody hope so, nothing i did in ME1 was at all controvertial. Never even punched the reporter.

Bret: You didn't deck the reporter?

Hell. Everyone decks the reporter. It's the right thing to do.

I like Legion. They're nice guys.

Having played Mass Effect and 2 in a week for the first time recently, I can safely say I agree with everything. Especially not being able to call Crapbag out for Akuze. Or airlock Miranda for Akuze.

What I'm saying is that my Shepard is not forgiving enough to let high ranking Cerberus operatives live, and probably not patient enough to let that slide.

Well, that and Mordin being the best. Hell, I feel I can safely say that if he was in an episode of Deep Space 9 or Next Generation or suchlike, it would be one of the best ones.

Jackrabbit: I didn't deck the reporter. It just felt like she'd win if I did. Bullrushing her, as she put it, was infinitely more satisfying and probably made her look like more of a bitch to the folks back home.

Jason L: Thought on relink/reread...
The Illusive Man: 'There are some who call me...TIM?'

Jason L: Bug report: Last Comments widget translates ellipsis as HTML "&#82 30;" in source code, which displays as "R 30;" I propose living with it.

Entropy: Ugh. Cerberus.

I entirely agree about my Shep now becoming MY Shep. Then again, I use a MaleShep, so I must be insane or evil or something.

I have dabbled in Femshep, but could never top this: http://i52.tinypic.c... ...z5m64w.jpg
This. This is my Shep.

Bret: Having "your" Shep gets even weirder on replays. Tried a more Paragon run, just to see what happens.

Seeing characters call new-Shepard an old friend just felt wrong.

No, Wrex. This jerk isn't your friend. Your friend is Commander Shepard, Space Badass, not some mealy mouthed Batarian apologist.

Post 500, by Tom Francis: [...] The Best And The Worst Of Mass Effect 2 (Spoiler Safe) Venting pent up opinion from not getting to review [...]

sinister agent: Aeons too late I know, but I wasn't even past the first conversation with "the illusive man" before I was thinking "call him Tim, call him Tim, call him Tim, oh please Shepard call him Tim."

It would be wonderfully, very gently belittling. It'd drive him mental.

Tom C: I'm playing through on PC with my previous save on an Xbox hard drive, so plenty of the things I did originally (like saving Wrex) have been overturned. As such, the whole game makes much more sense (narratively). I remember spending hours hunting Cerberus and I wouldn't work for him, but with this alt-Shepherd I can just imagine he never took those missions and so his feelings about Cerberus aren't as strong.

It's a pity that they didn't have the time or resources to make sure my Shepherd (a male version of yours) was servced as well, with better reunions and a story that made more sense. A pity.

Worst: I'm just before the trip through the Omega 4 relay, and what's killing me is (as a completist) the continued trips to every planet in every system to find all the extra missions, and there don't seem to be that many. So my biggest 'worst' would be too many planets, or too few missions. It's a chore to find all the missions, when that's usually the part I like most. There's either got to be more missions to make all this scanning worthwhile, or less planets, to make sure I find the missions quicker.

Another worst: the problem you had with reputation, I only just realised what you're talking about and it's too late in the game for me to get any of my reputations stats up. I have so little on either wing that I can't access most of the conversation options. Time to reassign stats I guess, but I doubt I now have the time to boost any of them up to a high enough level.

Best: Pretty much everything you've said, but especially the characters. Jack, love her, but apparently had sex too soon with her, so now we can't develop a relationship! I also adore the Yeoman, Garrus, Mordin, Thane, Legion... even Jacob since his personal mission was solid. Although I like Grunt since his shields are awesome, I would prefer Wrex, same with the asari, same with Miranda/Ashley. Give me my old flame back and keep Miranda.

That was always going to be a problem, so it's strange that they put them on the periphery. You're always going to be more attached to the old characters, and there's no reason why Wrex couldn't have fought in a big arena, or the asari/Ashely could have tracked their daughter/sister.

Only... three months until we find out how it all ends. Can't wait. (Although given how underpowered this PC is, might have to wait...)

The Splund/trgz: Well I never, I just read this after a heavy ME2 sess and thought 'what a great little article - why aren't there more quality pieces like this?' and then saw the name in the top left corner - ah-ha! explains it all. I guess quality games comments would come from being a great journalist and a passionate gamer. Keep it up. (Site bookmarked)

Bret: Yeah, Tom's solid.

Just reread his ME3 review. Mentioning the ending kinda sucks without whining about it or treating as too big a deal?

Nice to see. Liked the review more on beating the game than before, and it was a good review from the get-go.

Anonymous: I don't understand why anyone would complain about ME2 having short main thread. It is not shorter than ME1, that could be finished in 3 hours. If U want to play more, ME2 gives U numerous sidequests, just like the first game. What is more - all the sidequests give U some real reward (what cannot be said about ME1).

On the other hand, ME1 has something, that makes it a much better game - epic plot. ME2 is a great game, but in comparison it looks just like an unusual shooter.

Nick: Here is something i hate u cant get ashley either way in ME2 even with DLC packs

Nick: But u get Liara and Joker and even Tali who is a Badass in ME1 and ME2

Nick: @ Anonymous person and u get some Badass damn vehichles

Nick: in the first ME

Nick: Worst to some Best to others: no council no anderson helping Martin sheen plays as a back stabbing asshole and no matter how many upgrades u get someone fucking dies damnit

Erika: I love your description of the difference between Paragon and Renegade. I got annoyed with the way that if I choose Paragon conversation options with some of my teammates, it's automatically taken as flirting. Like, damn, Miranda, I was just trying to be nice. Simmer down, lady!

Whenever Harbinger made his announcement, I amused myself by mentally tacking on something else.

"ASSUMING DIRECT CONTROL [of dat ass]"

"ASSUMING DIRECT CONTROL [of the dance floor]"

"ASSUMING DIRECT CONTROL [of this Hot Pocket]"