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Mass Effect 2: Mineral Scanning Is Terrible

by Joe Juba on Jan 29, 2010 at 07:51 AM

Like most of the gaming world, I'm playing Mass Effect 2 right now, and it is awesome. The story, combat, and structure are all even better than the original – which is high praise from me, considering how much I love Mass Effect (it's part of my 1000 Club). So far, there is only one area of the game that falls short – and, by "falls short," I mean "totally sucks" – the mineral scanning.

Here's how it works: You approach a planet, initiate a scan, and hold the left trigger to start getting readings. Then, you spend the next 20 minutes meticulously (and at a glacial pace) combing the planet's grid, keeping an eye out for spikes in a seismosgraph that indicate the presence of a mineral vein. When you find one, you send out a probe, collecting some of the resource. Repeat that process about 30 times until you've tapped a planet's minerals. Do this until you can't bear it anymore, and then you can return to the main story. Sound fun? No, because it isn't.

Eventually, you can purchase an improvement for your mineral scanner, which upgrades its speed from Painfully Slow to Comically Slow. Even after the upgrade, the whole process just sucks at a slightly faster rate. That's efficiency, baby.

"Joker, set a course for crushing boredom."

I guess mineral scanning could technically qualify as gameplay, but it just feels tacked-on and incongruous with the rest of the Mass Effect 2 experience. Everything else I do in this game – whether it's side quests or main story missions – feeds into the mythology of Commander Shepard and builds the fiction of the Mass Effect universe. The pacing is spot-on, the action is fun, and the characters are compelling...but, after a mission or two, I need to take an extended break to go play hide-and-seek with iridium on some god-forsaken rock out in deep space.

I know it sounds like I'm being overly harsh, especially considering that the first Mass Effect also caught some flak for the way it handled exploration and mineral gathering. But here's the key difference between the two games: In Mass Effect 1, it's optional. In the first game, if you just want to drive your Mako straight to your mission objective, you can. All you miss by not collecting the minerals is a bit of money (which is hilariously abundant in the second half of the game anyway), and the UNC: Valuable Minerals sidequest (which offers no particularly cool reward).

In Mass Effect 2, harvesting minerals is inextricably tied to your upgrades. Want to do more damage with your sniper rifle? You need minerals. Want to improve your biotic abilities? Get out there and get some minerals. Want to upgrade the Normandy's armor so it doesn't get torn to shreds? Oh, you know you're gonna need some minerals!

"Commander, I'm researching ways to make mineral scanning suck less. Results are not promising."

Guh. I'm just disappointed that, in a game that maintains such a high level of quality and polish in all other areas, this awful mechanic got pinched off right in the middle of the progression system. If I could ignore it, I would...but I shouldn't have to forsake powering up my weapons and abilities just to avoid a poorly designed menial chore.

What do you think? Am I just over-reacting? Does anyone else out there hate this part of the game as much as I do?