Thursday, January 28, 2010

Mass Effect 2 Initial Impressions - No More Moon Patrol RPG, And EA's Dumbass Code Redemption Rigamarole

So I picked up Mass Effect 2 the other night, at the Gamestop midnight sale. Of the sixty or so people there, including the staff, I was certainly the oldest, and also noteworthy was the fact that only one person (not I) was there to pick up the other big game releasing that day, the PS3 game MAG.

So I've spent a lot of time with Mass Effect 2 over the last few days, and boy is it great. Everything that's out there in the gaming press is basically true. The characters and the story are fantastic, the combat is fun, and there's lots of cool things to do.

The hugest disappointment, though, is the omission of the moon buggy that was so much fun to tool around in in the first game. As I stated in my review, the moon buggy was a clear nod to the arcade classic Moon Patrol. In Mass Effect 2, it's gone. Instead of having the buggy dropped on a huge square of a planet and driving around to discover minerals and other hidden goodies, in ME2 the player scans the planet from orbit, and only if an anomaly is detected can the player land - in a shuttle.

The scanning is at first really very cool - the player moves a cursor over a competely 3D and rotatable representation of the planet. The controller rumbles and a graph of jittery lines spike up if the scanner is detecting one of four minerals, and at that point the player launches a probe to claim them. It is a very stylish improvement over the previous game's planet scanning, but it quickly becmes very, very tedious.

I haven't decided yet whether to doggedly chart every planet and claim every mineral as I did in the first game. So far only one planet has yielded a surprise mission outside my regular mission itinerary, so I fear the rewards may not be worth the time.

Speaking of rewards, whew....let me compose myself before beginning the next part of this.


Speaking of rewards, there are many rewards awaiting the Mass Effect fan who kept their save files from the first installment, who pre-ordered the new game, and even rewards for those who completed the iPhone game Mass Effect Galaxy. Such an amazing synergy has seldom been accomplished in the annals of gaming, and naturally EA is there to muck it up as much as possible.

The importing of my Mass Effect game save into Mass Effect 2 was simple enough, done right upon starting the game for the first time. The reward is a true connection between the two installments. Even minor decisions I made in the first game (and had since forgotten about) are turning up as having made an impact on characters I encounter in ME2. It's an astonishing weaving of story elements, nay, a skilled execution of storytelling engineering that deserves more praise than that of an isolated little blog like this one.

And the Mass Effect Galaxy bonus content for Mass Effect 2 - that the game's characters Jacob and Miranda mention the events of Galaxy in ME2 - was easy enough to figure out. Beat the game, touch "Extras" and then "Stay Informed", and then enter your EA account info. I had to talk to Jacob in ME2 a few times before he mentioned it, but it was still a neat thing to have.

Also accessable immediately was a code for the Cerebrus Network, a built-into-the-starting-screen system for getting ME2 bonus content, one such free example of which was available on the first day, and another on the second day after release. So not only does Microsoft have a fantastic downloadable content system and code redemption system built into XBox Live, which I have used successfuly many times in the past, Mass Effect 2 has a way of getting DLC on it's start-up screen. The Cerebrus Network code came with the game, and worked within the game's startup screen.

Of course, that's because I have an EA Online account, which I've had for years, but only recently have connected it to my XBox Live account, having needed to do that when I started playing Dragon Age : Origins, another Bioware game that I'll fill you in on later (oh, there's so much to tell).

But my Gamestop pre-order bonus code, which grants me a set of armor without a removeable helmet, and a cool new gun, was quite difficult to redeem. Here's the instructions on the card that came with the code:

1. Go to
2. Follow the link to redeem your unique code
3. Enter your EA account info
4. Redeem your code
5. Download your item
6. Load up your copy of Mass Effect 2
7. Check Shepard's personal terminal in-game, located next to the galaxy map, for a message detailing how to obtain your pre-order item

Instead of using the built-into-the-game code redemption system, or the built-into-the-friggin-Xbox-Live-service code redemption system, this was what I had to do to get my armor and gun? Hey, whatever, let's try it!

Step 1 - Go to

I was immediately stopped here at a faulty "enter your birthdate" thingy. I entered my birthdate, hit enter, and the thing immediately reset back to "January 1 Year". I was stopped in my tracks by this villainous bit of age discrimination. Oddly enough, entering "January 1 2009" took me to the site, but alas that was a dead end too. No code redemption to be found.

Disillusioned, I gave up and just played Mass Effect 2 without my pre-order goodies. Later, I realized what a bunch of bullshit it all was, and tried again. I changed my internet browser security, took down my firewall, and still no luck geting past Bioware's Age Guardian Monster.

But then, a Google search lead me to, which brought me to....

Step 2 - Follow the link to redeem your code

I saw no such link, but rather a Bioware social site of some sort that demanded I register. I started to, but then, to the right, I saw the login for my EA account. Which was really...

Step 3 - Enter your EA account info

I did. Amazingly, it worked. I rapidly proceeded to...

Step 4 - Redeem your code

I entered the code and it was accepted. Now comes the weird part. I was prompted to download my code - ONTO MY PC! For a moment, a flash of fear - had the Gamestop employee accidentaly given me a PC promo code? No, there was the XBOX Live logo right there, that couldn't be it. I nervously accepted the download...

Step 5 - Download your item

"What's happening?!?!" I screamed frantically, as downloadable content that was supposedly for the XBox 360 placed itself square on the desktop of my ancient computer. What mad world had I woken up in today? What was next? Would I have to turn on my PSP to get cable? Would my toaster be required to start my car? None of this made any sense to me and I whimpered pathetically when the download finished...

Step 6 - Load up your copy of Mass Effect 2

I already had it on. Okaaaay....

Step 7 - Check Shepard's personal terminal in-game, located next to the galaxy map, for a message detailing how to obtain your pre-order item

After you press start on the title screen, there's a display of two laptop computers. One is the aforementioned Cerebrus Network, and one is the game options (Resume, New Game, Load Game, and Extras). Under "Extras" it shows the DLC that I had already gotten, but the Terminus armor was not there. I wasn't sure if they really meant "Shepard's personal terminal in-game", so I started up my game and checked it. Nothing. Finally, I went to Shepard's personal quarters where his armor and clothing closet it, and it wasn't there either.

A little nervous still, I shut off the game and system and rebooted. Sure enough, when I restarted, there were my pre-order goodies, mentioned at both the title screen computer and the in-game one. I went to my quarters and put on the armor.

One last bit of stupidity with this armor - you can't wear it without the helmet on. Oh, it looks really cool in combat, but when you take a drink at the bar, or get a kiss on the cheek from a grateful girl whom you just helped out, it looks silly.

So that's it - my room-and-platform spanning adventure just to wear some sily bonus armor in a galaxy-spanning adventure. That DLC icon is still on my PC desktop. I'm afraid to remove it. Maybe after I've beaten the game. Plus, I'll unplug my microwave first just to be safe.

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