As Melmoth rather splendidly points out Bioware games do have a bit of a formula, a key part of which is getting to know the other members of your party by chatting with them, discovering unfinished business in their past and helping them out on some form of quest. When Bioware are on form with characters, story and voice acting these can be amongst the most engaging parts of the games, forging bonds with your comrades beyond the fact that they’ve got Shield Block Level 4 to handle an alpha-strike and helping to establish popular characters like HK-47 and Minsc (and Boo, of course).
It’s a short hop from formula to formulaic, though, and Mass Effect 2 does tend to emphasise the latter a bit. If you had three or four companions it might not be so noticeable, but running through the same set of actions ten times in a row rather drives it home; crew member has something on their mind (if you don’t pick up the subtle signals like them appearing distracted in conversation then your Yeoman will shout at you every time you pass: “hey Captain, someone wants to see you!”), have a bit of a chat to find out that their brother/sister/mother/father/son/daughter is in some sort of trouble, fly to a planet/space station, have a bit of a chat to a few people with some connection to your party member, shoot a bunch of bad people, get to the big finish where your party member is pointing a gun at someone, right click the blue option to grab the gun off them and say “you don’t want to do this”, home for tea, cake and Paragon points.
It could’ve been worse, though; entirely fictitious leaked documents that we’ve just invented reveal Mass Effect 2 originally had no less than 25 recruitable characters, and they were starting to run out of ideas for new and interesting side quests with some of them:
Eliza, a biotic freelancer: “Shepard, I’ve just got word from my brother Jeff; he and his wife live on the frontier worlds, they went out shopping leaving their children with the nanny, and while they were out there was a planetary alert warning of Batarian slaveships. On returning home the children were nowhere to be seen, and they couldn’t get hold of the nanny.”
That’s terrible, we must get after the Batarians, there’s not a moment to lose!
I’m sorry Eliza but the fate of humanity is at stake, we can’t dick around looking for a couple of kids.
Eliza: “Oh, no, they’re fine, turned out they’d gone to the zoo and the nanny hadn’t charged her mobile comm unit so the battery was dead. Anyway, my brother and his wife had bought a load of furniture while shopping and it’s all flat-pack; they had a go at putting it together but silly old Jeff, he’s all fingers and thumbs and almost nailed himself to the coffee table when putting it together, so could we pop around and help them finish it off?”
Sharmura, the Asari Commando: “Shepard! I am so sorry to disturb you, but I do not know who else to turn to. You have already done so much for me, but I must ask for a favour. It is my… I am not sure how you humans would describe the relationship, but somebody I met while on holiday and exchanged addresses with and we send each other a postcard now and again. They are facing one of the ultimate rites of Asari culture.”
We must go and help them at once!
Sharmura: “Thank you, Shepard, I knew I could rely on you. The ritual is difficult to describe, but… do you humans have what we would know as Cornflakes? They are like flakes, made of corn; served with milk they are a breakfast delicacy, or sometimes even as an evening meal when you can’t really be bothered to cook and you’ve run out of Pot Noodles. My friend had a bowl of them, and forgot to rinse it out straight after finishing as the ancient texts decree, and now faces the Rite of Brillopad to cleanse her crockery. I was thinking we could pop along with the M920 nuke launcher, that should do the trick.
Abel, an ex-Alliance soldier turned Mercenary: “Hey Shepard! Y’know how, like, I don’t talk about my family much? Well I just got this message from Uncle Geoff, he’s the guy who got me into the Alliance in the first place, I really looked up to him as a kid, he’d let me dress up in his tac pads and stuff. Well it’s bad news; see, his patrol got caught in a duststorm on one of the dark zone planets, took out comms, their support ship had to pull out ‘cos of heavy Geth presence, Uncle Geoff caught a slug in the knee and can’t walk.”
Don’t worry, we’ll pull him out and make those Geth sorry!
I haven’t got enough Renegade points so I’m going to be pointlessly insulting.
Abel: “Huh? Oh, no, this was last year, the patrol holed up until the storm cleared and the Alliance came back in force. No, he’s fine now, well, apart from the knee, even with reconstruction he was invalided out of the military. He used the pension to set up as a handyman, though, and he needs some business cards and a few fliers. He got a quote from a local printer for 79 Euro, and I was all “Whoah, total rip-off, I could pick up the blank cards and stuff and do them for 20 Euro tops”, so can I use the Normandy’s colour laser printer? We’ll put 10 Euro through to cover the costs of the paper and stuff, split the other ten between us, whaddya say?”