The Morning After
That iPad presentation had to be the worst thing I’ve even seen on on the Apple stage. There is a part where they - I am not making a joke - there is a part where they try to make creating spreadsheets seem awesome. Jilted may be the word. Of course, we’re at the second wave of commentary now, the reflexive defense phase, but I’ve seen this practiced arc too many times to feel its pull. Apple didn’t make a case for the device.
Short of a franchise “reboots” years after the fact (along the lines of a Fallout 3) or weird spinoffs (with the disambiguating suffix firmly attached) I’ve never seen a franchise rejiggered as fundamentally as Mass Effect. Deus Ex: Invisible War might fit the bill, and might even be a profitable avenue of inquiry.
Both games - ME2 and DE2, which are moving us dangerously close to astromech naming conventions - delivered second chapters which sought to “streamline” their gameplay loop, diminishing their mechanical complexity. In the case of the second Deus Ex, this was generally seen as a gruesome affront to thinking creatures and by extention the entire human race. In the case of Mass Effect 2, it’s regarded as something between refinement and alchemy. I’m not entirely sure why this is, but I suspect that Mass Effect is benefiting from seven years of retreat from RPG orthodoxy.
There’s also the fact that the original Mass Effect didn’t wear its mechanical depth especially well, and its depth wasn’t especially deep. It had the outward appearance of depth, as a hologram does; tantalizing peeks at hidden contours which never and could never wholly materialize. Another developer - even another team at Bioware itself - might have worked those underpinnings until they manifested broad systemic peaks, but they went exactly the opposite way, trading the genre’s customary numerical twiddling for an orderly schedule of player directed unlocks. Firmly demarcated “missions” culminate in Doom style breakdowns of what occurred, what was earned, rendering the epic into discrete meals which offer a progress a la carte.
Outside of the Normandy itself, which is brilliant and real, environments in Mass Effect 2 tend to be a little too designed, too obvious in their purpose - decidedly unlike places in which people might live or work or even be. That doesn’t keep the game from being fun, or interesting; this is simply something that is true. I defy anyone to experience the game’s introduction, though - especially with a legacy character - and not whirl inwardly, prepared to haul the narrative on your back if necessary, coursing with a terrible momentum.