NYCC 2010: Warren Spector and John Vignocchi on Disney’s New Gaming Strategy

4 11 2011

Originally posted in November 2010 on, which unfortunately has died.

Plus hands-on time with TRON: Evolution and Epic Mickey.

Hanging out at Disney Interactive’s Comic-Con booth over the weekend, I got the distinct sense that the company’s going to be focusing more than ever on video games, starting with the new TRON games and Epic Mickey. The former are part of Disney’s “first big transmedia” strategy, according to TRON: Evolution Development Director John Vignocchi, while Epic Mickey’s developers have been given huge amounts of freedom to explore Disney history. Both represent Disney’s increased interest in making games an integral part of the company’s brands, and with Warren Spector on board, there’s hardly any way the strategy can fail.

TRON‘s “transmedia” strategy means that the games and films (both the 1982 version and upcoming 2010 sequel) fit together like the pieces of a narrative puzzle; the original movie leads into the DS game, TRON: Evolution DS, and the Wii, PSP, and Xbox 360/PS3/PC versions follow chronologically in the fiction, culminating in the new movie.

In other words, Evolution (the game for 360, PS3 and PC) isn’t a side story or a continuation of the film’s plot. In fact, the film will feature multiple flashbacks to the game’s events, which lead directly to the state of unrest seen in the film’s world. Moviegoers don’t need to play the game first to understand it, but those who do will have a much more robust understanding of the film’s characters and plot.

I watched Vignocchi play the game for upwards of a half hour before taking control myself for the much anticipated light cycle race, which played like a version of Wipeout where the track is disintegrating as you jet across it. While I watched, Vignocchi played through an entire portion of the game set in Arjia City. Home to a rare breed of programs, it’s an important location in TRON‘s computerized world, but Vignocchi skipped every single cut scene, according to him, at the behest of the filmmakers. Apparently too many of the film’s crucial plot points are explored in the level, and they didn’t want the movie spoiled for observant Comic-Con attendees.

The on-foot gameplay came across as a mixture of Assassin’s Creed-like free running and combat somewhat reminiscent of Batman: Arkham Asylum. Players are free to run up any wall and jump to any surface they can reach, all while battling multiple enemies with an arsenal of disc-based attacks and using the environmental to their advantage. The demo also included a tank, which controls “like Halo‘s Scorpion” (straight from Vignocchi’s mouth) and lays waste to troops both on foot and in their airborne transport vehicles.

Overall, it seemed like a healthy mix of gameplay styles, with a slew of RPG elements thrown in. Plus, experience and upgrades earned in multiplayer (which players can jump in and out of at any of the plentiful upgrade stations littered throughout the campaign) transfer directly to the single player game.

Vignocchi said the team of self proclaimed geeks is thrilled to be working in the TRON universe. During his lengthy employ at Midway, in fact, Vignocchi worked directly under the creator of the original TRON Arcade.

“As geeks ourselves, we have this opportunity to work on this amazing property,” he said. “Everything is canon.” That may be the most important part for Disney’s current strategy.

Of course, the other side of that lies with Epic Mickey. Spector and the team at Junction Point have been given absolutely unprecedented access to Disney’s archives, and they’re taking full advantage by revisiting countless obscure, rejected and forgotten characters and locales, Creative Director and industry legend Warren Spector told me.

I played through the game’s tutorial level, which takes place just after Mickey Mouse is pulled into a dangerous dimension by a mysterious (and almost certainly evil) ink blot. Lucky for him, he comes into possession of a magic brush that can create or destroy portions of the environment at players’ discretion. Its most basic implementations involve spraying paint to create platforms, or paint thinner to remove obstructions. But Chase Jones, the game’s Lead Desgigner, told me the brush’s applications are too numerous to grasp from such a short demo.

When I asked Spector what his favorite part of working on the game has been so far, he couldn’t think of a single answer. “I’m really happy that people are finding their own play style. You watch five people play, and they’re all doing things differently,” he began. “That’s when games get really special.”

“At the end of the day, the game feels unique. It doesn’t feel like any other game, doesn’t play like any other game. Its pacing is different from every other game, and so I’m really happy about that,” he continued. “I’ve watched dads and sons playing together, you know? I’ve got one picture of literally a five-year-old boy with a controller in his hands and his dad leaning around and helping him out.

“And all of a sudden, you know – games can really be like Pixar movies. They don’t all have to be adrenalized shooting,” he continued. “It’s really reflecting what I hoped it would be.”

Yet it’s impossible to grasp the true importance of Epic Mickey without hearing it in Spector’s own words. “There’s a whole new feeling about video games at Disney right now,” he told me. “The fact that they’re using a game to reintroduce Oswald the Lucky Rabbit to the world speaks to how important video games are to the company.”

Oswald was introduced in the late 1920s, and the character’s close resemblance to Mickey is proof enough of his importance in Disney history. He plays a central role in Epic Mickey, and he’s accompanied by countless other similarly obscure and outdated characters.

“The idea that Disney the corporation would give the team that kind of access and that kind of freedom, that kind of creative freedom, more than anything else, has been surprising, and really special,” Spector said. “I think it really is that video games have kind of come of age.”

He added, “It’s about time.”

TRON: Evolution comes out for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC, and Epic Mickey hits shelves exclusively on the Wii.

What Will Halo 4 Be About?

7 07 2011

Now that Bungie’s moved on to bigger and better publishers, some say Halo won’t survive for long. Those people clearly don’t understand this industry.

No matter who’s in charge, there will always be Halo fans that legitimately care about the series’s fiction. Bungie and others have spent a decade crafting a pretty fantastic story, through the games, comics, books, anime and more, and despite a satisfactory ending to Halo 3, there are a lot of places the Chief can still potentially go.

A Toast to Onyx

One of the most popular (and probable) guesses so far is that the planet-sized structure glimpsed at the end of the recent Halo 4 trailer is actually Onyx. The “shield world” featured heavily in Eric Nylund’s official 2006 novel The Ghosts of Onyx, and it’s where the few remaining Spartan IIs and IIIs  – including favorites Kelly and Fred – will be found. The all-important Dr. Halsey, who made her first in-game appearance in Halo: Reach, was also last seen on Onyx.

The only problem is that Onyx was sort of destroyed at the end of the book. The entire planet turned out to be made of millions of Forerunner sentinels (the same flying bastards seen throughout the games), who disengaged from one another and decimated a Covenant fleet toward the novel’s conclusion. Halsey and the rest of the Spartans found themselves trapped in a dyson sphere – an inverted planet in a slipspace dimension adjacent to ours – searching for a way out.

The Chief would no doubt be thrilled to reunite with his oldest friends, and Ghosts of Onyx left plenty of unanswered questions. If there’s even a slight chance Halo 4 will answer them, Microsoft’s going to get even more of my money. There are a couple other options I can think of, though..

A Four-Legged Marathon

Halo 3’s ending was hardly ambiguous, but there was one aspect that left some questions dangling in our minds: beating the game on legendary unlocked the briefest of teaser videos showing Cortana and the sleeping Chief’s busted-ass ship approaching a planet that looked more than familiar to long-time Bungie fans.

You see, Halo wasn’t Bungie’s first series. Many of you probably know this, but back in the ’90s the enterprising developers made a series of Mac games (what? why?) called Marathon. Thematically, they were pretty similar to Halo; the Marathon games teemed with lone super soldiers, rampant AIs and millenia-old sci-fi structures. And the planet that makes its cameo in Halo 3’s secret ending has a pretty big Marathon symbol on it. The inclusion of this otherwise pointless scene fueled the already-widespread speculation that the Master Chief and the protagonist of the Marathon series are one and the same. Despite Bungie’s repeated claims otherwise, Halo is in Microsoft’s hands now, and number four may well tie neatly into the Marathon series.

Something Completely Different

Of course, it could always be about something else entirely. Although it seems 343 Studios would be missing out on some incredible narrative opportunities if that’s the case, they’ve probably got loads of perfectly decent ideas that have nothing to do with “the story so far.” Say goodbye to the other Spartans, screw Dr. Halsey’s mom complex, and forget the forerunners ever existed. After all, it’s Microsoft we’re talking about. Selective consumer amnesia is an important part of their business strategy.

I’m sure there are plenty of other good ideas out there, so lemme have’em. What have I forgotten?

Gaming in a foreign land

7 02 2011

Alright, so it’s just the UK, but still. I’m only here for a few months, but I’ve run into my fair share of difficulties trying to keep up on my gaming habit. It’s strange to say, given that gaming is a habit some people struggle to break, but the less games are a part of my life, the less I feel like myself.

Yeah, Europe blows.

I’m still keeping up with industry chit-chat, writing semi-daily for Kombo and Gamezone. The NGP looks amazing – I don’t see how Sony could screw this one up, though of course I won’t put it past them. I even got to play the 3DS again this past weekend at one of the public events they’re holding throughout London. My friends and I stumbled across it at the hip kids-street fair they hold at Brick Lane every Sunday. The little thing hasn’t changed much, and while it’s impressive, I can’t help but be more excited by the possibilities of the NGP. I’ve never liked 3D that much anyway.

Speaking of 3D, I can’t believe 3D movies here cost £15 – that’s almost $25. Dates are expensive, and tangled was cute, but hardly worth it. What was I talking about? Oh yeah..

So for one thing, Steam only works intermittently. That’s not entirely Steam’s fault, as my Uni (Goldsmiths College) purposely blocks the ports that Steam requires to connect. If Steam allowed you to mess with its connection settings a little more, I might not have this problem, but it is what it is. In offline mode, my games, paltry as the selection is (I’m on a Mac, naturally), tend to freeze up every few minutes. Steam support seems mostly stumped on this issue, though their most recent solution may have actually done the trick.

So PC gaming is finicky at best. Bringing a console would have been pointless – there’s no TV in my dorm, and the wacky power outlets they use over here would have probably fried my already-stressed out Xbox 360. Lugging my original, 80-gig PS3 halfway around the world would have been ludicrous, and as for the Wii, well, who the hell plays Wii anymore?

That leaves my PSP, DS and iPhone. The DS has seen practically zero use, despite a friend kindly lending me her copy of Golden Sun: Dark Dawn. I think the problem is that I’m just sick of the DS. I’m sick of the entire system. Flipping it open, the battery-draining sleep mode, my stupid scratched-up touch screen, dropping the stylus on the bus.. I just don’t feel like dealing with it anymore.

As for the iPhone, roaming is a bitch. It stays on airplane mode 100% of the time – I just can’t risk the charges if it decides to ignore my wishes and tries to send me my Words For Friends notifications or something. Mostly I just use it as an iPod now, and since most games tend to interrupt your music as soon as you start them up, I just don’t really play games on it anymore. I might, if there was a universal setting that prevented apps from pausing your music, but Apple apparently hasn’t thought of that yet.

So that leaves the PSP, which has seen the most use of any platform I have here. I’ve got a healthy library of games at my disposal: Birth by Sleep, Jeanne D’Arc (which has been on my pile of shame until now), Ghost of Sparta, and Persona 3 Portable. There’s a lot of variety there, though I think I’d be playing a lot more if I hadn’t brought Kingdom Hearts. I’ve been struggling to finish it for months, but it’s just such a stinking pile of crap.

I’ve actually got a pretty good metaphor for this: trying to be thrifty, I picked up a pint of Sainsbury’s (a general grocery store) brand scotch a few weeks ago. Imported Jim Beam and Jack Daniels are too expensive here, so I figured, why not? I filled up my flask and went to see a play (a normal day in the life of Mike Rougeau).

Do the math

But it turns out the stuff is awful – and my full flask has been sitting on a shelf, unused, for weeks. I can’t drink it, but I can’t bring myself to pour booze down the drain, either. The Sainsbury’s Scotch is preventing me from day-drinking – just like Birth by Sleep is preventing me from playing PSP. There are a lot of lessons to learn when you move to a foreign country.

I solved the flask problem by letting a friend drink all the scotch. Now I’ve got an empty vessel in which to pour whatever I want. I can’t exactly wait for someone else to finish Birth by Sleep for me, though. In fact, I may just write it off entirely so I can get to Jeanne and God of War – far superior games that I’d much rather be playing.

It’s frustrating to have to sit back and watch a  game like Dead Space 2 come and go while I twiddle my thumbs across Europe. There’s ads for it plastered all over the subway. I’ll also be missing the launch of the 3DS – another thing I can’t seem to get away from, yet won’t have access to until months after everyone else does. And as grateful as I am to have Steam on my Mac, the cross-platform library still blows. Left 4 Dead 2 and Deathspank are pretty much it. The first thing I’m doing when I get home (besides grabbing some In-N-Out) is firing up Demon’s Souls.

I do like to complain, but – and I’ll be honest here – there are worse places to be, and I know I’ll get to resume gaming soon.

A Towers of Midnight postmortem

13 11 2010

Where can you possibly begin when you’re talking about The Wheel of Time? I guess the most important part of a 14-book series is the characters; without great characters, nothing could last this long. The Wheel of Time has, according to the last official count, around 2200 named characters. Yet there are a precious few who are important to that world as they are to me. Maybe that’s one of the reasons my love for them is so strong.

There’s something really extraordinary about reading a new book in a decades-old series, especially one you’ve been reading all your life. The attachment you can feel toward characters you’ve grown up with is surprisingly strong. Harry Potter is a great example of this for people my age. If all seven books had come out at once, we wouldn’t be nearly so attached to them; instead, the books kept coming out as we grew up, and they matured in tandem with us.

The Wheel of Time is much the same way, only spaced out over two decades, two authors, and 14 long, long books, the penultimate of which came out at the beginning of the month. The first book in the series came out shortly after I was born. I jumped on board over a decade later, and though that may seem late by some standards, four completely new books (and one prequel) have come out since I became fully caught up as a teenager. Each one was awaited with more anticipation, and each had a bigger impact on my life than the last.

When Robert Jordan died in 2007 with the final book still unfinished, the future of the series was up in the air. Even after Brandon Sanderson emerged as the author who would take the reigns and finish the books, we held our breath in nervous anticipation. Then The Gathering Storm dropped in 2009, and the future seemed more certain than it had in years. The book was incredible, easily matching the best of the series prior to Jordan’s death.

A year has passed since then, and the 13th book, The Towers of Midnight, has finally arrived. I blew through its 850 page girth in two days, and for those two days, the characters and places inside were more real to me than the real world. It was incredible; every important character reached new levels of awesomeness. Best of all, events that were set in motion in The Fires of Heaven, book five in the series, have finally been resolved. Moiraine, by some accounts the series’ Gandalf figure, and possibly my favorite character, has been rescued from the mysterious world of the Aelfinn and the Eelfinn, or the Snakes and Foxes, as they’re not-so-affectionately known.

Every character who witnessed her fate in The Fires of Heaven had no choice but to assume her dead. Though only a year or two passed between her apparent death and rescue in the world of The Wheel of Time, it took far longer in the real world: 16 years, almost to the month. Moiraine played a huge role in the early novels, and her influence is felt, her presence dearly missed, throughout the rest of the series, by other characters as well as by readers.

Reading her lines and actions again after all this time was incredible. The last time I heard Moiraine speaking in my head as I read the words Jordan crafted for her, I was around fifteen; it’s been much longer for some. She’s given a scant few pages at the end of The Towers of Midnight, but it’s clear she’s got a huge role to play in A Memory of Light, the conclusion to an unmatched epic that began over two decades ago, set to come out in early 2012. It will be sad, exciting, and exultant, and while I never want it to end, I really can’t wait.

Why I couldn’t care less about Duke Nukem Forever

15 09 2010

Many of you already know this, or your subconscious knows it, but I thought why not spell it out in the simplest terms possible. No long winded argument or impassioned diatribe. Just my opinion, presented as fact: Duke Nukem, as both a game and a character, is obsolete.

He’s a rude, misogynistic dirtbag with diarrhea of the mouth who loves strippers and blowing shit up. It was campy back then; now it’s just tired. Movies like Grindhouse have appealed to similar faculties, with debatable success, yet Duke seems strangely out of place 14 years after the game’s original announcement.

Look back at the shooters we were playing in the late 90s, when Duke Nukem Forever was still a “game in development” and not a “running joke.” Goldeneye, Quake, Half-Life, even Duke Nukem 3D – all classics, and no doubt worth revisiting, but it doesn’t take much examination to notice that they can’t hold a candle to today’s shooters.

There is simply no possibility that Gearbox, however respectable their track record, will be able to elevate Forever from its troubled past well enough for it to compete with Halo: Reach, Call of Duty: Black Ops, and whatever other modern shooters have impressed new genre conventions on gamers by the time it hits shelves next year.

I’m 22 years old. I’ve been gaming nonstop since I was three. I don’t remember ever playing a single game starring “the King, baby,” but for this argument, I don’t have to. Actually, that very fact is the nail in Duke’s digital coffin; despite shows of enthusiasm by PAX goers slightly older than myself, the appeal of Duke Nukem Forever lies solely in the novelty of seeing it actually released. Gamers, and gaming, have evolved, and there’s no longer a place for him in our world.

There is no such thing as an overrated game

6 09 2010

Ocarina of Time is the best game ever. Halo is the best game ever. Super Mario 64 is the best 3D platformer of all time. Final Fantasy VII is the greatest RPG ever made.

Wii Sports is overrated. The Wii is overrated. Ocarina of Time is overrated. And what’s so great about Halo, anyway? Goldeneye is better.

Goldeneye is so overrated. It sure hasn’t aged well. I can’t wait for the Wii remake – I just wish it was on a real console. Everyone knows the Wii is overrated.

Etc. Now, listen. I’ve got something to say.

No game has ever been the best game ever, in any category, ever. There is no best RPG, there is no best shooter, and there is no best motion controlled sports-themed mini game collection (OK, in that category Wii Sports might actually be the best, but only until Sony’s Move comes out).

Likewise (and it may be shocking to hear this), there are no overrated games. There are simply games that garner a lot of attention, people who hyperbolize about those games, and people who can’t understand, for the life of them, why.

But games that attract enough attention to in turn attract the attention of people who like to criticize games that attract a lot of attention – well, they attract that attention for a reason.

And, well, there are only so many reasons a game might attract attention. Some games are given undue attention by the media, like Grand Theft Auto. Some get attention because they’re either nearly perfect (Portal) or pieces of crap (Kane and Lynch); others do it by completely betraying people’s expectations, like Dark Void and Alpha Protocol.

There is another reason why some games get a lot of attention, though: when they do something new. It’s these games that occasion the most hype, homage and hyperbole, and they’re the ones most often written off as “overrated” by those who simply fail to understand their significance, often years later.

Super Mario 64 isn’t the best game ever, nor is it the best 3D game, the best platformer, the best 3D platformer, or even the best game starring Mario – but it sure as hell isn’t overrated.

For people my age, it’s sometimes hard to remember that at the time of Mario 64‘s release, the mustachioed one was already insanely popular. The side scrolling platformer thing was working. The dude practically saved US gaming in the 80s, and it took decades for the Western game industry to catch up with the Rising Sun in the East.

For Mario to make the jump (ha) to 3D was unnerving. No one knew what to expect, and plenty of people probably thought it would be the end of the chubby plumber’s glory days. For the game to be so damn good – that was revolutionary. The simple fact that players could walk forward, or backward, or left, or right, and that it was fun to do so, meant gaming would never be the same.

Halo: Combat Evolved is far from the best game ever, as are Halo 2, Halo 3, Halo 3: ODST, and Halo: Reach (which I played to death last week – and yes, it’s an excellent game). Why all the hubbub, then?

Think about it; comparisons with Half-Life or Quake III: Arena or whatever else was popular on PC at the time are irrelevant. Half-Life fans weren’t buying Xboxes. The big black boxes were being purchased by gamers who had only recently been acquainted with the concept of the first person shooter. Goldeneye started the revolution on consoles, Perfect Dark bested it in every way, and then, a year and a half later, Halo sent millions of console shooter fans to the hospital with severe cases of bleeding from the eyes and ears.

The jump from Perfect Dark to Halo was, for many, many people, an indescribably awesome experience. Halo and the Xbox brought countless innovations to the console shooter: dual analog controls, recharging health, the two gun limit, the grenade button, vehicular combat, physics, a plot that made sense (more than that – the plot was compelling), ingenious A.I., huge environments, layer upon layer of strategy.. the list goes on.

Halo 2 sweetened the pot by adding online matchmaking, oiling the wheels of the Xbox Live experience, which until then had far too closely resembled the online play found on PCs. Halo 3 brought the trilogy to a satisfying conclusion, ODST was a moody spinoff, and Reach perfects the whole formula. People love Halo because it was different, new, and lovingly crafted.

If you still don’t get it, you’re not trying hard enough.

Final Fantasy VII, while rife with imperfections, inconsistencies and, in general, a whole lot of nonsense, brought RPGs to the Western hemisphere, among countless other accomplishments. Can the value of that gaming triumph really be quantified?

Wii Sports gained the attention of thousands – perhaps millions – of people who would have never given gaming a second glance. It may be trite at this point, but your mom and dad, girlfriend, and co-workers playing video games? That’s significant. It’s a huge deal. The Wii (and Wii Sports, which to many is synonymous with the system itself; “I’m so drunk, let’s play Wii!”) has generated more revenue for our thriving little hobby than anything, ever. If you’re wondering why Nintendo’s lineup right now is so incredible, you can start thanking Wii Sports for the very existence of Mario Galaxy 2, Kirby’s Epic Yarn, Donkey Kong Country Returns, Metroid: Other M, yada yada yada.

Yeah, I got over it after a month, too, but can you really call that legacy overrated?

Ocarina of Time ushered adventure gaming into the 3D era, much as Mario 64 did for 3D itself. Goldeneye was the first console shooter that was even worth anything at all, much less a challenging, engaging, diverse experience. And four player split screen multiplayer? Get out of town!

Petty squabbling and nitpicking aside, there are similar things to be said about any game that’s ever been called overrated. Games don’t warrant that kind of veneration for no reason, and calling classic games overrated comes off pretty ignorant. So next time you feel the urge to drop the O Bomb, try examining a game in the context of what it accomplished, rather than how your jaded gamer’s brain sees it now. We’ll all be better off.

Red Eye Review: why “Mass Effect 2″ is braver than most games

8 07 2010

While Mass Effect 2 was met with generally positive reviews, there was some concern about the “dumbing down” of the first game’s RPG elements, if I remember correctly. There’s no doubt that this occurred; Mass Effect presented players with a literally overwhelming number of weapons, armors, upgrades, and all sorts of other goodies, to the point that it was quite a chore to sort through them all to find the best options for a given situation. That game frustrated the hell out of me, for a lot of reasons; mainly, though, I simply didn’t see what all the fuss was about.

More satisfying abilities, only one of the sequel's many improvements

Mass Effect 2 has improved on that, first and foremost, by removing every single irksome element from the first game- even the ones I didn’t realize I was annoyed by, like the inventory management. From a non-gamer’s standpoint, constant micromanagement of a squad’s equipment seems ludicrous, but as gamers, we expect nothing less from an RPG. It’s only natural that we’re forced to stop by the Citadel between missions to offload our supplies of useless extras so our inventories aren’t full when we find that one really awesome pistol. It was a brave move to yank the safety net of familiar RPG tropes from under the feet of us poor gamers, and it threw me for a loop before I realized how brilliant it was.

Now, 15 hours into the game, I’m finally starting to get it. Sure, I wish I had more shotguns to choose from, but at what price? By euthanizing those aspects of the first game, Bioware has allowed me to finally see what others saw all along: the stunning world they’ve crafted. I think I could actually gush about all the improvements this game brings to the table, like the more visceral combat, more intelligent class system (Why did they ever let you carry around a sniper rifle if you couldn’t look through the scope? Why?), more satisfying abilities, blessed absence of the Mako and those Simon Says mini games, and many more. Those old habits were hard lost, and it took me even longer to get into this game than the first, but once it had me, I realized the true appeal of the series.

I am just aching to know what the Quarians look like under those suits

Most games that claim to allow players to decide for themselves what’s right and what’s wrong fail before they even begin (here’s looking at you, Fable- Yes, you, little darling of miserable ambition). These games can’t really offer any semblance of a moral system to players when the morally right and wrong choices are so obvious. No one thinks it’s morally correct when, at the end of Fable 1, the “hero” murders his own sister, but, hey, he gets to keep that pretty sword. When the only consequences of morally abhorrent actions are a virtual slap on the wrist, the whole system implodes on itself. The choice becomes obvious, notwithstanding the second, “good” playthrough to nab the extra achievements (if that’s your thing).

Mass Effect 2 avoids this entirely by simply allowing players to choose whether to be a dick or not. Even when morals are involved, the game rarely spells out explicitly what the in-game consequences will be. It’s always possible to reload a previous save, but Bioware can hardly be blamed for the bad habits of their fans. Players who get a kick out of being a dick get to be a dick, and those who like to be nice to people and rack up good karma, like myself, can do that, too. Dragon Age was similar, but the heavier RPG gameplay bogged it down in that regard; in Mass Effect 2, it doesn’t really matter two shits which dialogue choice will net you more credits or a better pistol.

Squishy faced Miranda = a great character

Instead, the point of Mass Effect 2 is to simply experience the universe. Tolkien’s and Lucas’s worlds were just as expansive, and probably more so, even at their inceptions, but they mostly existed in the minds of their creators. I know the Star Wars comparisons are tired at this point, but the idea of actually traversing a universe so fleshed out is deviously appealing. Bioware has cleared away all that dusty clutter so that we can see the complexity underneath. This all struck me in the middle of the Assassin mission on the Asari world, Illium, which is by far the most interesting and diverse environment I’ve yet come across in either game.

It helps a lot that the characters are better conceived, the dialogue is snappier and the story is just flat out more interesting, despite not really going anywhere at all. Most of the game is spent simply flying around recruiting its sundry cast of characters. Does it matter, though, that Mass Effect 2 is, story-wise at least, unabashedly little more a means to get to Mass Effect 3 and beyond? How could it, when it’s such a fascinating universe to explore?


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