Thursday, March 10, 2011

Mass Effect 2: Cerberus Network, Part One

Spoilers ahead for Mass Effect 2. In fact, most of the time you should just expect spoilers for whatever game I'm talking about. That's sort of the point of this thing, right?

The Cerberus Network for Mass Effect 2 can be activated on the PS3 using a code that comes with new copies of the game, or you could buy it for $15 from PSN. It consists of several components:

+ The Mass Effect: Genesis digital comic
+ A new character, Zaeed Massani, and his loyalty mission 'The Price of Revenge'
+ Project Firewalker, a set of vehicle missions
+ Normandy Crash Site, which wants to make you all teary-eyed
+ A handful of weapons and armor that I suppose could be good if you play on higher difficulty settings, but honestly most of the weapons feel sort of samey to Normal-playin' me

I've now played through each of these components, so let's see how they stack up!

Mass Effect: Genesis

One of Mass Effect 2's neatest features is the way that it imports your save file from the original Mass Effect and incorporates most of your decision-making from that game into the new one. Characters that died as a result of your decisions in the first game stay dead in the second game, that sort of thing. The only problem for the PS3 version of Mass Effect 2 is that the original game never appeared on that console, so there aren't any save files to import!

The answer to that is this digital comic, which provides the backstory of what happened in the original Mass Effect and lets you make some of the major decisions. It's a neat idea, and it does let you make about five of the main decisions: two characters live or die, you can choose the fate of an alien race on the verge of extinction, you can have a romantic involvement or not, and you can dabble in politics during the final showdown.

The trouble with Genesis is that it's really just the bare minimum: these are the most basic decisions from Mass Effect, the ones that you really can't do without. One of the joys of Mass Effect 2 when I played it on 360 and imported my save was the way it seemed to reference every single little thing I did in that first game: sidequests, Paragon/Renegade decisions, things that seemed inconsequential came back and felt more significant. If you only have Genesis, you won't get to experience that feeling. But then: you are getting to play Mass Effect 2 on your PS3, and you'll still get to mold the overall shape of the story from the first game.

Zaeed Massani and the Price of Revenge

The Illusive Man gives you the dossier for Zaeed Massani, a mercenary and bounty hunter who has been hired by Cerberus, and tells you to go pick him up on Omega. The Internets tell me he has a Cockney accent, which just goes to show that I can't tell the difference between an Australian accent and a Cockney one.
Zaeed, apparently not a Space Australian
Zaeed tells you that he already has a contract underway, and doesn't want your Cerberus mission interfering with it. If you decide to let him finish the contract, you travel to the Zorya system for his Loyalty Mission, 'The Price of Revenge.'

A comment about Loyalty Missions. In Mass Effect 2, you're assembling a team to undertake what's effectively a suicide mission: travelling through the Omega-4 Relay into unknown space to deal with the threat of the mysterious Collectors. Every character you recruit for the team has an additional character-specific mission to undertake, their Loyalty Mission, and if you successfully complete it, they unlock a new ability or upgrade and are now Loyal to you. The reason you want characters to be Loyal is because they'll have a greater chance of surviving the suicide mission at the end of the game.

If you're playing Mass Effect 2 for the first time and have the Cerberus Network, odds are fairly high that you'll go to recruit Zaeed early or even first; after all, he's someone that not everyone will have access to, and you want to play with your exclusive new content. As a result, you won't know the significance of Loyalty Missions and you'll play through 'The Price of Revenge' in a straightforward way.

But if you *are* familiar with what a Loyalty Mission is, Bioware does something pretty sneaky in this one, and I think it's fantastic. When you arrive at Zorya, you learn that Zaeed isn't here on business. This is a personal vendetta against a mercenary leader who betrayed him twenty years ago. He'll sacrifice anything to get to his target, Vido Santiago, and indeed he initiates a fire at the refinery that imperils the safety of all its innocent workers. It's decision-time! Vido's getting away, and if you stop to try and extinguish the fires and save the workers, Zaeed's chance for revenge could be gone; it took him twenty years to track down Vido, and he doesn't want to wait twenty more years for another chance.

This is where it gets interesting. Zaeed tells you, 'If Vido gets away, Shepard, I'm going to blame you!' and one of your responses in the conversation wheel is 'This isn't about loyalty, Zaeed. I'm saving those people.'

Uh oh.

If you know what a Loyalty Mission is at this point, you know that this isn't your standard Paragon/Renegade choice. No, this is endangering the whole reason you came on this mission! If you come out of 'The Price of Revenge' without Zaeed's loyalty... why did you come on his Loyalty Mission in the first place? I love that Bioware scripts this scene in such a way as to make even the goodiest two shoes that ever two shoed take a step back and wonder if maybe it's not such a good idea to try and save those people.

It turns out that it's possible to get Zaeed's loyalty even if you do try to save the workers, but you'll need to make a Paragon check that could require that you not do this mission early. It's a satisfying mission, and Zaeed is an interesting character who has some great lines during other people's missions. He doesn't have a full-fledged conversation onboard the New Normandy the way other characters do, but other than that he doesn't feel extraneous. Zaeed and his Loyalty Mission are my favorite parts of the Cerberus Network content.

Next time: the rest of the Cerberus Network, and did we really need another Mako?

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