DLC Review: Mass Effect 2 Arrival

DLC Review: Mass Effect 2 Arrival

Another day, another galaxy to save.

Publisher: Electronic Arts

Playstation 3, Xbox 360

Release Date: March 29, 2011

Players: 1

Rating: Mature

“The Reapers are coming…” Or so that’s the overshadowing thought that rested in the back of our minds as we played Mass Effect 2. Although the healthy doses of downloadable content packs have provided a lot of extra game time, none of them have really shed any light on the issue of the Reapers themselves. With the conclusion to the Mass Effect trilogy rapidly approaching at the end of the year, Bioware has whetted our appetites by producing extra content to bridge the storylines between the second and third game. Arrival, the last episode before the release of Mass Effect 3, gives us one final adventure to keep us busy while we wait.

Although Arrival can be played at any point of the game after the first round of recruitments, it’s heavily implied that this mission should be done after the main story is completed.

In an emergency transmission from Admiral Hackett, Shepard is notified of a captured scientist named Dr. Kenson who apparently uncovered some lost Reaper technology. What’s worse, the scientist calculated that the Reaper invasion is to occur in a matter of days. Embarking on a solo mission to rescue Kenson, Shepard finds himself tasked with not only saving one person, but his actions have the potential to affect an entire star system of hundreds of thousands of inhabitants in the process.

I could have seen Arrival lasting a little bit longer than it did. Other than a chance encounter at the climax of the mission, this functioned much like any other side quest, except it had actual dialogue. I expected more involvement from Hackett, who had been completely absent in the second game. The combat sequences weren’t unique next to previous DLC packs for the game, except that Shepard does all of the fighting on his own. If anything, a couple battles were more difficult, but they were nothing a seasoned player couldn’t handle.

A doomsday-style clock is present throughout the mission, which helped add some intensity to the situation. As I passed by it between finishing one task and starting the next, I often stopped to catch my breath and glance at how much “time” had passed. Seeing how much time was left always made me start rushing again to finish the mission, because I didn’t want to stick around and see what happened when the timer ran out.

Stacked up with the previous DLC like Lair of the Shadow Broker, Overlord and Kasumi, Arrival was a nice addition to the bunch. There were some upgrades like extra health to pick up, but they were redundant since they wouldn’t really be put to use, unless you play this mission out of the order it should have been initiated. For the price and the length, it isn’t a must buy, as a couple Youtube videos could sum up the content of this pack pretty well. It’s decent, but isn’t an absolute necessity.

Arrival is priced at 560 Microsoft Points, or a little over $7 on Playstation Network. If you’re itching to get a couple extra hours of playtime in Mass Effect 2, you will not be disappointed.

Rating: 3.5/5

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Crisis Averted!

Color me infuriated. I’ve had my fair share of issues with my consoles; my third Xbox 360 stands as a testament to that. I’m not a professional, but I’d like to say I’m good at fixing a number of problems that have dropped onto my plate. It’s never easy, but solving them does leave me feeling a little gratified, that is if it’s a problem that can be fixed in the first place.

“That’s not supposed to happen…”

For a few days, Mass Effect 2 was unplayable for me. After finishing the game as a male Paragon Shepard (and subsequently writing an article about the choices in the series thus far, found here), I thought it would be fun to play through the game again on Insanity as a female Renegade. I was having a blast until I had died for the umpteenth time. While I was reloading like usual, my game had abruptly stopped in the middle of the loading screen, forcing me to power off my Xbox. Each time I tried to start the game again, it would freeze up and have to be manually powered off.

I began to fear the worst. “Is my Xbox going to fail?” “Is this the first symptom of a Red Ring of Death error, or the beginning of a chain of bad occurrences leading to a slew of other problems that would render my system dead as well?” A lot of things flew through my mind; it was tough to stay calm. The idea of troubleshooting a console has steadily evolved from simply blowing on the cartridge of an NES game, to running down a long and tedious list of fixes for our current generation consoles that rival a help manual for a computer. When did it ever become so complicated? Throughout the night and the following two days I began narrowing down the possible causes:

1.       Removing all of the Downloadable Content (Stupid mistake)

2.       Cleaning the disks, even though they were in perfect condition

3.       Contemplating using canned air to dislodge any built up dust inside (REALLY STUPID. Thankfully I didn’t go through with this)

4.       Calling Electronic Arts and wasting about an hour of my time (The technician ended up sending me a knowledge base article on Microsoft’s website for how to get on Xbox Live…..)

5.       Playing another game

After four really dumb ideas, I finally landed on something mildly intelligent! As I said before, when you’re not in the right state of mind, foolish things are bound to occur. I proceeded to find out every other game I bothered to put in worked just fine, so it was only Mass Effect 2 not functioning properly. I tried using a different Gamertag as well, and lo and behold, the game was playable again! Only problem is that since I wasn’t using my primary profile, I didn’t have access to the save files I would be using in the first place. Because of this, I realized that the issue had to be centered on my gamertag.

“What seems to be the problem with your game, sir?”

Of the many problems and glitches people have had to battle with to get this game to work, my case had yet to be brought to Bioware’s attention, and because of that, it lacked an official fix. I was literally on my own, unless there were others in my situation that just haven’t spoken up. I did some digging, and eventually got in contact with other Xbox 360 users that had the same problem.

Upon further investigation, the problem lied within the save files connected to my gamertag. Apparently, if you have “too many” save files, a rare instance occurs where an important save file, like your AutoSave(which brings you right back to the last place the game saved before or after a battle or major plot point) or ChapterSave (which brings you to the beginning of the mission you’re in) can get corrupted. This is very problematic because when Mass Effect 1 or 2 is turned on, it is also readying your most recent save to be loaded immediately. Even though you haven’t actually gone about to manually load the save file in question, this is done for you. If these two files or a save you made on your own are corrupted, the game will freeze when you try to advance past the start screen, which was my problem in the first place.

…How I got this fixed isn’t up for disclosure…

….But nevertheless, I had found that my AutoSave for my female Renegade was 0kb’s. Having no file size essentially makes it corrupt, and obviously fails to load. After rectifying that, I was able to load my game up again, and was subsequently able to play as well.

From what I gathered, there are a number of possible causes to this, but I’m willing to bet that this problem won’t be addressed by Bioware or Electronic Arts. Mass Effect 2 has been out for a year and a month now, and if a major issue like this hasn’t gotten some attention yet, it likely never will. I just hope that when Mass Effect 3 comes out, other gamers like me won’t have to wrestle with the system in order to play.

It’s funny. My reasoning behind preferring console gaming to computer gaming is very simple – I don’t have to pray that my machine can handle a new game, and don’t have to be haunted by the idea of having to invest in new tech in order to keep your machine useful. With a console, I just have to pop it in, sit back o the couch and enjoy. For a few days, I had joined the minority of players afflicted with errors. When you aren’t having problems with your game, people like me are invisible; yet if your game fails to work, then you’ll see other people with problems everywhere you look.

Mass Effect 1 and 2 Choices Retrospective

Commander Shepard has saved the galaxy twice. Despite thwarting the plans of both Saren and the Collectors, Shepard must take up the fight against the Reapers for a third time.

Along the way he has made a lot of decisions for better or worse, and it’s an understatement to say that some were more substantial than others. Nevertheless, the majority of his actions have served to shape the well being of many groups, individuals and even an entire species that have come into contact with him.

The key to the Mass Effect series is decision making and accountability. As such, the actions the player makes were said have an immediate outcome in the following adventure. I’ve just recently cleared both Mass Effect 1 and 2, and while I’m completely floored by how vast and massive the game universe is, I can’t help but wonder about a lot of plot points that are hoped to be answered in the eventual release of Mass Effect 3. Some of the choices made in Mass Effect 1 had an immediate consequence (or alteration in cut scene) like whether a certain character is alive or not, was addressed Mass Effect 2. However, bigger choices between both games like the ones mentioned below have left all of us hanging.

Cerberus –

It’s very obvious that Cerberus and the Illusive Man had ulterior motives. Much like how a corporation injects large sums of money to help a business, it’s only a matter of time before that corporation starts to try to control that business’ actions from behind the scenes. The Paragon choice at the end of the Suicide Mission results in the Illusive Man’s only show of emotion, as Shepard blatantly disobeys his order. It’s not smart to piss off the only group that took it upon themselves to bring you back to life, especially if it’s Cerberus. The Illusive Man’s connections and intel were what allowed Shepard to assemble his new squad to take on the Collectors in the first place. Needless to say, the team couldn’t have gotten where they did without his assistance. Upsetting him by “doing the right thing” has to have some repercussions in the third game. (Update: the events of the ‘Lair of the Shadow Broker’ DLC may be the answer to this issue.)

Krogan Genophage –

Krogan are the toughest organic species in existence, who were instrumental in saving the galaxy from being overrun by Rachni long before the events of the first game. On the surface, Krogan seemed to be a typical Sci-Fi bloodthirsty race with no goal other than to fight. Learning that each and every Krogan was forcefully sterilized and left to deal with their affliction definitely added a lot of depth to them and rationalized their disdain for other species. The Genophage renders only 1 /1000 births to be viable, while the remaining typically end in stillbirths or serious birth defects, which severely limit their population. The end of Mordin’s loyalty mission makes it clear that the ongoing issue of the Genophage affecting every living Krogan could be rectified, or left alone to run its course. I hope that Mass Effect 3 addresses this decision, because uniting the Krogan to help in the fight against the Reapers would be a definite plus for Humanity.

Legion and the Geth –

Sabotaging or re-purposing a Geth stronghold was one of the more interesting plot points that were posed during Mass Effect 2. Shepard and his crew spent the majority of Mass Effect 1 killing hordes of Geth, only to be helped by an advanced model that had gone “rogue.” In Legion’s loyalty mission, players are faced with the choice of significantly hurting the Geth army by destroying a large amount of them, or reprogramming them into assisting in the fight against the Reapers. Would you kill off machines that could be your enemy, or take a chance in reprogramming them to help further your own goals? In the grand scheme of things, the Geth became pawns to be used for good or evil. Either way, the Geth can become a new ally or continue to be a nuisance in the face of the greater threat.

The Reapers –

It took the combined efforts of much of the Alliance fleet to take down Sovereign at the climax of Mass Effect 1, and even then, there were heavy casualties. The devastation that one Reaper is capable of was apparent, but the image of thousands of them making their way into the Milky Way Galaxy from Dark Space is a bit unsettling. Also, Sovereign was important because he was the only Reaper who wasn’t hibernating in Dark Space to begin with. His role was to send a message to the rest of the Reapers to begin the process of exterminating all life once again. In Mass Effect 2, we’re treated to the disjointed voice of Harbinger, another Reaper that was controlling the actions of the Collectors, the primary antagonist(s) at certain points of the game. If all of the other Reapers were trapped in Dark Space in hibernation, where did Harbinger come from? They seemed to come out of their sleep on their own, which wasn’t explained. How can that many Reapers be stopped, and at what cost? While the final boss in the Collector Base was incredibly large, it was only an embryo compared to what it would be like if it were to mature. Whatever it’s going to take, Shepard is going to need more than a couple shots from a Heavy Weapon or a sniper rifle to take down a fleet of Reapers.

Suicide Mission –

If you’re red, then you’re dead.

It was clear that casualties were to be expected during the Suicide Mission, hence it’s name. However, it’s possible to ensure everyone lives if players are prudent enough to make sure everyone was loyal (And in some ways this is expected, since there’s an achievement / trophy for doing so). No matter what you do, some of the dialogue still implies that people died. This leads to the idea that getting everyone’s loyalty in the first place took a back seat compared to the issue of time constraints. How long of a timeframe did Mass Effect 2 take place? Perhaps Shepard wasn’t intended to take the time to gain the loyalty of each and every squad member, but only a couple of the more important ones. If players were to start a new game in Mass Effect 3, will there be some sort of default roster of squad members who lived and died?

Mass Effect 3 has a lot of plot points to conclude, and having some input on how things go is what makes these choices that much more meaningful. The conclusion of Shepard’s journey has to tie up these loose ends and some others not mentioned here; otherwise the point of playing each of the three games will lose their luster. How will the final game address all of these plot threads?

Why I Missed the Party: Mass Effect

I really miss Baldur’s Gate.

Sometimes I can remember the nights I would play it. I was always in the middle of a journey, adventuring with a ragtag group of heroes from all walks of life. In every event, their unique perspectives would often mix in with mine, with pretty interesting results. If I were to meddle in the affairs of two warring estates to settle the dispute peacefully, my meaner teammate would be the first to ask me why I was such a nice guy. Conversely, my “good” party members would question my intentions as I went into dealings with a criminal syndicate. Extreme actions were often met with brow beatings or threats to leave me high and dry, so I always had to make decisions with those potential responses of my party in mind. I won’t give you all too many examples, but the point is this; Baldur’s Gate, in addition to Western Role Playing Games in general represented a much more active approach to storytelling, and to this day is one of my favorite games of all time.

Before the days of Neverwinter Nights, Jade Empire or Dragon Age: Origins, I was introduced to Western RPG’s with the Baldur’s Gate series. This was a time where Squaresoft was the supreme ruler of the RPG genre; a time where the average gamer would only be aware of classics like Final Fantasy. Don’t get me wrong, the games I’ve reviewed thus far are a clear beacon: Japanese RPG’s have been very good to me. However, I feel as if I’ve hit some sort of limit with them.

Like I said in a previous post, the Mass Effect series had gone right over my head. It was a combination of bad timing on my part, and an infatuation of a number of other games, and regrettably, little bit of bias.

I had put a lot of stock in Bioware’s RPG, Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic, when it was preparing to release. The Star Wars universe was trying its hand at being an RPG, after many years of existing as an avenue for action/adventure games. This was new, and it was big. Playing as a unique character who realizes the potential to wield the force made out to be an excellent idea on paper, but for me, it fell flat. Combat left something to be desired and from there, I continued to find more things wrong with the game. Perhaps it just didn’t work well for me, since this was a top selling role playing game, and did very well to put Bioware into more homes than the average Dungeons and Dragons enthusiast. Personally, I think that Bioware’s brand of RPG was in a transition phase: At the release of KOTOR, it hadn’t reached a stable point that I could enjoy, compared to what Baldur’s Gate had already accomplished.

Since I didn’t like it, I swore off Bioware games completely, since 2003.

However, it’s been seven (almost eight) years since that then. Western RPGs have steadily been on the rise in terms of innovation and mass appeal. At the forefront of this is Bioware, touting a number of games like the ones I listed earlier.

2010 is coming to a close, and unfortunately this is the time where most of us sign off and burrow into our caves to rest every inch of our minds and bodies for the duration of Winter Break. I’ve reviewed everything I wanted to cover for a while, and since I have about two months or so before the release of Marvel vs. Capcom 3, I want to put my reviews on pause for the time being. During this break, I’ll be getting reacquainted with Bioware, and observing how far they’ve come by playing through both Mass Effect games consecutively. I played the demo of Mass Effect 2 recently, and have been completely enthralled with the game play. Perhaps after so many months of having to fight monsters with keyblades and photon weapons while dialogue and plot spoon fed to me, It feels pretty damn satisfying to shoot stuff, and carve my own path (where it’s possible) by choosing what I want to say next.

I just got Mass Effect 1 in the mail late this week and have already gotten my Commander Shepard to become a Spectre, so I’m already knee deep into this great game.

When I look back on certain games, I hate to say that the reason I’m not playing them is because of a bias that was rooted in a previous game. I used to think that Bioware wouldn’t get back on track after finishing Baldur’s Gate. Even though I’m a couple years behind, Mass Effect is clearly proving to be just what I needed to restore my faith in Western RPGs.

Here’s one of many epic moments that made me glad I’m playing this –

Repackaged, But Nothing New

It’s hard to imagine certain franchises will stick to their guns and remain exclusive to one console. This year has seen Final Fantasy’s highly publicized fall from grace, when Xbox 360 got its own version (a slightly underpowered one, at that) of Final Fantasy 13, which was released alongside its native PS3 counterpart. The ever raging console debate is just losing its momentum – the heavy-hitting big name titles that fanboys tout as the reasons to purchase a console are becoming moot, since it seems that both sides eventually get access to these previously exclusive games.

I unfortunately had missed out on the Mass Effect craze. Both games have gone right over my head, but I always wanted to check them out. Although I own every console, other circumstances always stopped me from taking the plunge. Even so, this series is pretty special. It’s clear that the story is modeled after the best sci-fi trilogy ever made, and it would be foolish to step into the second game without having played the first. This past year I’ve been trying to move my focus from my Xbox 360 to my PS3, and the unwarranted consequence to that was that I was going to miss out on Mass Effect

Until it was announced that Mass Effect 2 would be released on PS3.

Naturally, the Playstation camp is pretty ecstatic. This port of the main game also contains all of the downloadable content that was released for the PC and 360 versions of the game, all on the disk. Of course, this is all well and good, but a quick glance at the price turns me off completely. The core game is still largely the same experience, yet the mere 6 hours of bonus content (as it’s advertized on the box) boosts it to full price. Compare the $60 you’d spend for this against the astronomically low price for the PC and 360 versions, which are hovering around $15 now.

In the midst of having the privilege of playing this game, PS3 owners will be missing out on an important factor that this release will be lacking. One of the main factors of playing each Mass Effect game is that the choices you make in the previous game reflect in the next. For example, your main character’s class and reputation, whether certain characters are alive or dead, or the livelihood of an entire race, to name a few, are variables that can affect your experience. The rights to Mass Effect 1 are owned by Microsoft, so the chances of it appearing on PS3 are slim to none, but I hope this glaring problem is addressed somehow.

I suppose in the end, this was a good move for Bioware. When all is said and done, a new audience gets to play another excellent RPG. Past decisions or not, Mass Effect 2 is still a great game, but I’d be more inclined to play it if it wasn’t so expensive, just for being on a different system.