I’ve just finished Mass Effect 2 on the hardest difficulty level (called “insane” for a good reason). Just to make life difficult I also set myself the objective of completing the final level (called the “suicide mission” for a good reason) without losing any of the supporting characters. I do feel pretty good about completing it, though playing on that difficulty level was bloody annoying at times (ranging from “wanting to throw the computer across the room” to “wanting to hunt down the level designers and hurt them severely” level of annoyance).
The last level isn’t as good as the last level from Mass Effect 1, though it does have some advantages over it. Breaking the last level down into three sectors and giving the player the ability to switch teams between each sector is both good and bad: Good in that you get to use different characters whereas in the first game you had to pick 2 of them at the start and the unused ones just twiddled their thumbs back on your spaceship the whole time. This time all the characters are doing something, even if only 2 of them are with you at any time. Unfortunately this is also bad because it weakens the pacing of the last level. The pacing of the last level on MS1 was fantastic, the best I can think of. It started fairly conventionally with a battle against a series of Geth, then switched to a vehicle sequence through the Ilos sewers (or whatever they were), then it took us to the Citadel, but a citadel wrecked by fires and debris. Then they managed a surprise with the elevator getting stuck, forcing the player to fight up the outside of the Citadel tower while an immense Reaper looms overhead. Then the final confrontation with Saren in the ruined counsel chambers. Several changes of scene, a good surprise, and either showing us stuff we’d seen before but significantly altered, or showing us new stuff. Compared to that MS2’s last level takes place primarily in the Collector base, which is visually uninteresting, and contains little that we hadn’t already seen on the Collector ship in an earlier level. The earlier space battle elements were ok, but the player was peripheral to events during them. The “human” reaper was no where near as interesting to fight as Saren and lacking any interpersonal feel (the ability to talk the Saren into blowing his own brains out was pretty cool). I’m also a bit dubious about the whole injecting the Reaper with liquidised humans: I have no problem with them studying organics for design ideas. I can even swallow the idea of engineered gods with psychic powers in addition to their awesome physical capabilities. It’s just not really clear what a load of organic “soup” does for them. Also the human Reaper appeared to be rather different in form to all the other reapers we’ve seen. I have difficulty imaging a human shaped Reaper flying alongside the various crustacean-shaped Reapers we’ve already seen. Would he have flown through space like a giant evil robotic version of superman? Or would he have had some sort of chair/throne arrangement like Galactus? It’s lucky he got killed really, I’m sure all the other Reapers would have taken the piss out of him just because he was different and made his life unbearable.
I don’t know what they could have changed to make it better. Maybe have the final battle with Harbinger instead of the human Reaper? That would’ve been a bit too much like the battle with Saren. Maybe add some extra Reaper tech into the central chamber rather than repeating the floating Collector platforms, anything to add something new and different, even just changing the lighting would have been visually interesting. Maybe have the final battle involve using Reaper tech to kill the Reaper, rather than just shooting it’s vulnerable spots repeatedly with the same weapons as normal.
I am looking forward to Mass Effect 3, hopefully they’ll end the trilogy on a high note!