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Mass Effect 2 | The Adventure Zone: Balance, "The Eleventh Hour"

And a "Return to Ostagar" in more Dragon Age: Origins DLC!


GAME REVIEW // Mass Effect 2 Remastered

Game summary: After being revived from death and having to join a pro-human organization without a choice, Commander Shepard must assemble a team, battle a new threat, and make tough choices in order to save the galaxy from total annihilation once more. (IMDb)

Mass Effect 2 Remastered takes what was already a great game and updates it for the modern day - well, updates its visuals at least, because I'm not sure what else they changed. This might be a case of not remembering exactly how the original version of Mass Effect 2 played, but it really does feel like all they did was update the graphics to meet modern-day expectations.

Much like with the remaster of the first game, it's the lighting that makes the most difference beyond even the far higher textures for Ultra HD resolutions - and Mass Effect 2 already had great lighting to begin with. Improving lighting for remasters or simply aiming for great lighting is something I'm noticing more developers do and it's not surprising other than how long it's taken video games to catch on.

There are still some wonky animations though, especially with guns not being held correctly, but this tends to more funny when it happens than anything else - it's easy to laugh off minor issues like this that only occur every now and then in a 40-hour game. Strangely though, it does have the effect of making Mass Effect Remastered feel like a visually superior game to its direct sequel at times because of how much bigger the jump in quality is.

But where the first game can't match Mass Effect 2 is the sheer variety of characters and locations you'll encounter in this game, especially the much bigger team you can assemble for the final suicide mission. It's a shame your team don't interact more with each other, but having so many more people to talk to means that the new Normandy feels much busier as a ship and more like a 'home' of sorts than the original.

Speaking of the original Normandy, its destruction in the opening sequence still remains one of the greatest openings to any story in any media. Normally, a huge event like losing the main character's ship would be a gut punch to hit the audience with mid-story, but starting out with such a devastating defeat for Commander Shepard leaves you wondering just what the hell is going on and how you can possibly defeat such powerful enemies.

There'll be plenty of time to figure that out though, with so many more missions to take on than the first game that it feels a little ridiculous. You've got the main story missions, recruitment missions for your squad, then the missions to make them loyal to you, a whole ton of side missions and all the DLC stories released for the game back in the day, including one of the best DLC stories ever made: Lair of the Shadow Broker.

This glut of content is great for expanding the universe and making the player realise just how big and varied the galaxy is - especially the seedier side, where you spend almost all of your time, in contrast to the first game. On the other hand, some of the side missions feel so disconnected from everything else that it does make you wonder why they're even in the game.

Lots of open world games are accused of 'bloat', simply for having optional content existing in the world - Mass Effect 2 has the same kind of side missions, but you have to go to a system, scan the planets to find an anomaly and then pick your team and land before you can even start it. Give me the current way of doing things anytime for missions that have no bearing on the main story or characters.

The other major downside on the missions front is the odd pacing of the main story, which is something that feels inevitable considering how the game is structured with the recruitment of your squad and the missions to gain their loyalty. You'll more than likely have unlocked the mission that triggers the end game with two-thirds to three-quarters of the game still to go, which completely undermines the urgency of said story when you have to put it off for over twenty hours of playing if you want everyone to survive.

It's a little disappointing that something so heavily story-related has this issue considering the narrative-driven nature of the Mass Effect series, because Mass Effect 2 is pretty much a perfect game in all other regards and doesn't feel over a decade old(!) otherwise. Yes, it might well still not look as good as brand new games, but there are very few titles that even come close to doing as much right as this game does.

The score is still fantastic too - one of my favourites in any medium ever - and the sound design remains top notch, including the soft *plink* of firing the Cain before the gigantic explosion goes off, drowning out practically everything else as time briefly slows for you to appreciate the level of destruction you've just unleashed. Man, I love the gun - it's a bit of a cheat as it utterly trivialises pretty much every difficult situation, but it's worth it.

There are some who dislike Mass Effect 2 for not focusing on the larger Reaper plot, which makes me wonder how much attention they're paying, with the Collectors taking on the same role of Saren and the Geth in the first game - hell, this game has far stronger links to the series' larger plot than Empire Strikes Back does to the Rebels vs Empire conflict in Star Wars after all, and Empire isn't exactly viewed badly, is it?

One final comment to also praise the decision to allow players to switch classes after the destruction of the Normandy at the start, with my preferred playing style going from Soldier in the first game, to Vanguard for the remainder of the trilogy, purely due to the biotic charge attack. It's immense fun to blast across a battlefield and slam into an opponent, with my 'head canon' allowing for the trauma of 'dying' unlocking Shepard's biotic abilities.

If it it isn't obvious yet, I love Mass Effect 2 and, if nothing else, appreciate how good the remaster makes it look. There are very few trilogies where the middle part is the strongest - lacking both the beginning and ending of the main story after all - but this is absolutely one of them. Even with some of the meaningless side missions, if BioWare had found some way of spacing out this game's main plot a little better, I would've put it down as one of the all-time classics - instead, it's 'just' great.

Mass Effect 2 Remastered is a fantastic game, serving to widen the scope of the series and add so much depth to the world(s) of Mass Effect it's ridiculous - hell, it feels like only the visuals were updated because the original game was so good on release that BioWare didn't need to change anything else. Only the strange pacing of the main story and some utterly disconnected side missions hold it back from being one of the best games of all time.

[9/10 - Great]


PODCAST REVIEW /// The Adventure Zone: Balance, "The Eleventh Hour"

Story summary: After a fairly morose start to the episode, our heroes are launched — with great speed — into a new adventure. What awaits them inside of the time-stuck anomaly? More important question: Who’s ready for SUMMER FASHIONS? (The Adventure Zone)

"The Eleventh Hour" is paradoxically weaker than the previous couple of arcs thanks to being both too restrictive and too lose with the situations it sets up. I swear it makes sense though, because the restrictions refer to the overall arc of Balance, while being too loose - open-world in video game terms - relates to this adventure in particular.

While it does have a neat time-looping mechanic of resetting at a certain point each day, the lack of direction means that it feels like a lot of time is wasted simply discussing what to do rather than action being taken. Don't get me wrong, the 'discussions' (more accurately: teasing, trolling and arguing) are very funny, but more than one episode finishes with it feeling like very little actually happened.

It's not helped that Griffin clearly has a set story he wants to tell here as the larger plot takes a firmer grip on proceedings - going from aimless wandering with little progress to a chunk of story that apparently needs to unfold in a very specific manner can be a little jarring at times, and I would say it's clear that the three players struggle with this too if you take into account how much they have to double-check with Griffin that it's okay for them to do in comparison to previous arcs.

This all leads to what is the low point of the entire Balance story for me in the showdown with a character called Isaak. Minor spoilers here, but he wants to stop the guys getting this arc's Grand Relic they're after and they need to get past him, which seems simple enough. But, and I don't know why, Griffin must really like this character because he forces a longer encounter with him.

To elaborate, Travis succeeds in a persuasion check, which Griffin talks around and ultimately ignores. Then Justin uses an item bought specifically for situations like this and succeeds, which Griffin promptly ignores. It ends up in a battle before the Tres Horny Boys can get past Isaak, which takes a big chunk of time and I can't understand why - the character only provides some more background info and isn't relevant to the conclusion of the arc at all really.

I could go further into how Griffin seems to always go to great lengths to devise stories that nullify most of the guy's skills and/or purchases, but that's not peculiar to just "The Eleventh Hour". Honestly, once you hear Travis succeed in his persuasion roll with Isaak, scrub through the next ten minutes or so until the encounter is over and just get on with the story - if this was any other form of fiction, Isaak's character would almost certainly be cut completely due to how pointless he is.

I get that this has been a lot of criticism for this arc, but I did still enjoy it thanks to how much fun it is to listen to the McElroy clan interact with each other in this environment. This arc really does rely on them to do the heavy lifting and they prove up to the challenge, so it's not like you'll have a bad time with this story - but it's an easily forgettable section of the journey towards the end.

"The Eleventh Hour" is The Adventure Zone being as enjoyable as always, but it's now starting to heavily rely on Travis, Clint and Justin for the humour thanks to how much more prevalent the over-arching story is becoming - oddly being made worse by the 'open-world' design of this particular adventure, proving a little loose for anything substantial to really happen.

[7/10 - Good]


GAME PLAY /// Dragon Age: Origins, "Return to Ostagar"

Another chunk of DLC as the game heads back to where the story all began (post whichever origin you select, obviously) and a fun little side mission to retrieve Cailan's armour and weapons, while also taking him down from where the Darkspawn had hung his corpse as a trophy. There's nothing particularly special here, unless you take the right characters and do it at the right time.

The latter is the easiest, the right time is to leave it as long as possible and so Elissa heads back there having collected the support of the various factions and is ready to begin the Landsmeet with Arl Eamon. Leaving it so long into the game really does make you realise just how much your characters have been through since the last time you were there, effectively putting you in the shoes of the characters.

As for who you should take, Wynne and Alistair are definites as they were both present for the slaughter after Loghain's betrayal of the King and have a fair amount of dialogue. After them, your Mabari hound is the best to come with you - especially if you're a human noble - although that will mean you'll be unable to open any locked chests unless playing a rogue.

Elissa brought along Wynne, Alistair and her now-lover, Leliana, cutting a path through the Darkspawn as they made their way through the familiar ruins, back into the Tower of Ishal yet again and a final showdown with a Necromancer who resurrects the ogre that killed Cailan before being killed by Duncan so long ago. Quick tip: it's only the necromancer keeping the ogre alive, so kill him and the battle ends quickly.

After that, it's a funeral pyre for Cailan - the other options are leaving him for the wolves or Darkspawn - before returning back to camp. Alistair is now wearing Cailan's armour, a nice tribute to his half-brother, while Elissa is now decked out in Warden Commander armour. Duncan's weapons were also retrieved, but one downside to leaving this DLC for too long is that they are now useless for anyone in the party.

"Return to Ostagar" might not work if you're racing through the game as fast as possible, or if you do it as soon as it becomes available, but really struck a chord thanks to just how long it'd been since I'd had to play through the events that happened there. It's pretty short and simple, but definitely better then a similar mission in Mass Effect 2 where you visit the wreckage of the first Normandy.



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