So, I decided to try a full back-to-back playthrough of all 3 games. After the whole ME3 ending debacle, I figured I could never bring myself to do it, but with the advent of MEHEM
, I thought I might be able to stomach it.
It was interesting playing them so close together, allowing comparison without too much rose-tinting due to faded memories. It did highlight a lot of the mechanical clunkiness of ME1. I probably found the general slowness of just moving around levels the most frustrating. Shepard ambles along like an invalid, obviously one of several methods they used to deal with their loading/streaming issues. There were issues with combat as well, but I still prefer some elements of it. Individual cooldowns, weapon proficiency tied to talent progression, etc. The constant attempts by party members to shoot through walls was not so hot though.
Overall I still like the story of ME1 the best. Both sequels got derailed by focusing their attention on the Collectors and Cerberus. Plus just the general feel of the game. There's just something about the atmosphere of ME1 that the sequels failed to capture IMO.
ME2 is, in some ways, probably the sweet spot for a lot elements in the series. Mechanically, the combat is generally an improvement (although I hate the universal cooldowns with a passion). AI is obviously a lot better. Some of the new powers are good. The interrupt system is too QTE-like for my tastes, but some of the outcomes are nice, at least for those of us that enjoy setting people on fire or pushing them out windows. One thing that really bugged me was the prevalence of clipping/collision issues. A number of times I got trapped trying to exit cover and ending up walking up a wall into a ceiling or the like, having to use console commands to get myself out. Sloppy work.
The story is a mixed bag. The whole Collector and Human Reaper plot was a complete waste of a third of the trilogy IMO, not to mention it transformed Cerberus from some minor terrorist outfit that got a throwaway mention in ME1 into some massive galaxy-spanning organisation with more resources and power than most governments, setting it up to take far too much screen time in 3. And killing Shepard off simply as a means to reset his level and get rid of the original crew was a poor choice, and the first hint of the dreaded space magic with his miraculous resurrection. Where it did well was in the character interactions, always Bioware's narrative strength. It's just a shame that this content (half the game) was focused on housekeeping tasks to gain loyalty, rather than being used to drive the overarching narrative forward. The suicide mission concept was arguably a poor choice. While a nice idea in principle, adding real consequence with the potential for characters to die, they effectively sidelined the entire cast for 3 as they couldn't rely on any of them being present. That's a real problem when you just devoted a significant portion of the game to building up said characters.
And on to ME3. I'm still not sure what the deal is with the start. I really wish they hadn't cut the trial. If you played the Arrival DLC in ME2, the idea is seemingly that you were prosecuted for wiping out a Batarian system in a show trial, a scapegoat to forestall a war. That's fair enough, although they could have thrown in a few extra lines of dialogue to make that more apparent. But if you didn't play Arrival, the Codex says a team of Alliance marines blew up the relay, not Shepard, in which case his/her apparent incarceration at the beginning of ME3 is somewhat odd (collusion with Cerberus perhaps?). Whatever explanation they originally intended was obviously sacrificed in the name of getting to the action as quick as possible to keep the shooter crowd interested. Then there's the kid. I guess this is now the archetypal example of Biowarian hamfisted attempted emotional manipulation. As to the rest of the story, that has been done to death by now, so there's probably no point rehashing it. I have plenty of issues with it, but I will say that one area where it improves over ME2 is that most major character interactions are in service of driving the main plot forward.
Combat-wise, there were some nice additions like combinations of powers, but overall I think I preferred the combat in ME2. The introduction of multiple levels with ladders and such is a nice concept, but it is never really taken advantage of in combat areas. Plus instant kill melee enemies in a cover shooter - bleh.
One of the most striking things was the amount of auto-dialogue in ME3. Playing all 3 games back-to-back, you really notice it. In ME1, everything Shepard says is chosen by the player. There are also "investigation" options to ask about specific topics in virtually all convos. In ME2 this is mostly the same, although auto-dialogue makes an appearance and there are less investigate options. There are also fewer Charm/Intimidate choices offered, mostly being replaced with interrupts. In ME3, auto-dialogue makes up the majority, and when you do get a choice it is almost invariably just 2 options. This is probably one of the more egregious missteps of ME3 IMO. They pared back so many features, but player choice in characterising Shepard was one of the hallmarks of the series. Given the direction they seem to be trending, I wonder if ME4 will be a straight out shooter.
As far as MEHEM goes, it's pretty amateur in its execution, but I'm willing to give the guy a pass because, according to the readme, it was the first time he ever did any editing like that and the fact that we even got such a mod is something I never thought would happen. Plus it completely excises Casper from the game, so that earns it major points. It doesn't really resolve the major underlying problems with the plot, but it trims out the space magic and does the best it can within the limitations of the available source material and editing tools. Worth a look for anyone that found the original ending/s distasteful enough to prevent a replay.