Like a lot of people, we've been getting ready for Mass Effect 3 by spending the last couple weeks replaying the first two titles in the trilogy. (Possibly also like a lot of people, some of us are rebuilding save files we foolishly deleted.)
Above: This time, I'll wear that OTHER suit of space armor to the club!
Played back to back, it's striking how much better the series got between installments. The original Mass Effect is still a groundbreaking classic, but there are a lot of things that are tough to take on the second or third playthrough. For every awesome set-piece, like the zero-G battle up the side of the Citadel Tower, there's a boring grind, like humping the Mako around planets looking for rocks to tag.
The sequel abandoned many of these problematic mechanics rather than fixing them, and it's a much better game for it. Mass Effect 2 is set-piece after set-piece, all killer, no filler.
Still, we can’t help but miss some of the features that got cut. Sure, ME2 was better overall without them, but they weren’t ALL bad, and they brought something to the feel of the game that we liked, however small.
Here are a few of the flawed features from Mass Effect 1 that had some positive qualities. And just to prove we’re not nostalgic fanboys, we’ve also included some early features that are probably better forgotten.
What was wrong: The missing Mako might be the most noticeable difference between Mass Effect 1 and 2. The rugged six-wheeled rover was an iconic part of the first game; even the initial teaser trailer closed with Shepard dropping the Mako into Geth-infested territory.
Above: "If we could get it to fly, we could probably take Sovereign"
Playing ME1, you got intimately familiar with the Mako throughout the game's campaign. You might even say a little too familiar. Depending on how many of the side quests you tried to complete, you could spend hours driving it over fractal landscapes without anything happening.
If your response to that is "You could just NOT do the side quests," then we know the meaning of all the words you're using, but we have no idea what you're talking about.
Time after time, you'll point yourself towards the nearest radar blip and inch up a nearly vertical cliff wall, cursing whatever Alliance engineer decided the jump thrusters should only point downwards. More often than not, you'd only be rewarded with yet another downed probe and a few generic upgrade modules.
(It's anyone's guess why the futuristic equivalents of NASA bundled weapon parts in their space probes. Maybe it was a warning to anyone who found it. "See this gun barrel? Excellent craftsmanship, isn't it? Maybe you'll think twice about starting trouble, because there's more where that came from.")
What was right: As slow and aggravating as the Mako could be, it was an absolute powerhouse in a fight. There isn't anything comparable in the game. As far as you're concerned as a player, the Mako is the most badass thing in the known universe, narrowly edging out Thresher Maws. Get in the Mako, and a pack of enemies that would rip you apart on foot suddenly become flaming ragdoll XP piñatas.
Sure, it's not exactly "balanced," but there's something to be said for letting balance take a backseat to power fantasy. Sniping fools with the Mako cannon is just plain fun. And when the Normandy comes screaming out of the sky on Ilos and spits the Mako out practically on top of Saren, you know he's got good reason to run.
Above: Enh, it's just not the same, somehow
More generally, there's a sense of exploration in Mass Effect 1 that isn't quite there in the sequel. You can read about how a moon orbits a gas giant whose upper atmosphere is populated by phosphorescent bacteria, then drop down and see it up in the sky for yourself. Unlike ME2's linear (but fun!) N7 missions, you never know what you're going to find when you drop the Mako planetside, even if it usually is more crashed probes.
The DLC for Mass Effect 2 introduced the Hammerhead, a hovering successor to the Mako that mercifully lets you leap over cliffs with ease. But without planets to explore freely or an XP and loot system that rewards you for kills, the Hammerhead feels more like a taxi than a tank. Unlike the rock-solid Mako, it's a prima donna that sounds klaxons and catches on fire after taking a few measly Geth plasma bolts.
Above: Plus, anything that lets us live out our 3D Moon Patrol fantasies can't be all bad