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Tuesday, 2 February 2010

In game job par excellance: The life of a space miner

I wanted to be able to bring you my review of Mass Effect 2 this morning, but a funny thing happened: I haven't finished it yet due to the boring, yet completely addictive mining mini-game. For those of you who don’t know, Mass Effect 2 is a Sci-fi RPG developed by BioWare for Xbox 360 and PC and a sequel the 2007 original. I am supposed to be firing laser guns and talking to blue-skinned Aliens (no, not those ones), but instead I’ve been flying around looking for minerals in my starship, evidently a glorified space-digger. Yes, I’ve used these raw materials to upgrade the hull, shields and weapons, but so far they have been redundant... I just can’t stop mining for mining's sake. We have seen things like this before: Ryo had to get in his fork lift truck every week day morning in Shenmue and Fable 2 had you chopping wood, but this is the most addictive time-sink in game job yet.

It goes like this: I travel to a new system, under the pretence of recruiting some exotic space marine into my band of plucky space crusaders (of course I never tell them about all the mining we’re going to be doing) and instead spend three to four hours visiting unexplored worlds and mining the shit out of them. This is made even more tedious by the fact that you run out of fuel and mining probes (apparently capable of locating, digging up and recovering raw minerals from the rock... what do the space unions make of this?) quite regularly and are forced to fly your ship to the nearest fuel depot, where you stock up again, before flying back for more Platinum mining of the fourth moon of Epsilon VI, or whatever.

What I find amusing about this planetary plundering is that the worlds have a status regarding their abundance or scarcity of minerals, ranging from Rich to Depleted. Now, I usually find a world Rich in minerals and mine it until it’s Depleted... but how and why is this possible? Why is my military ship making off with whole solar systems worth of raw materials? Why are the governments of these planets allowing me to do this to their economies and their landscapes? The mind boggles. Although you could be forgiven for thinking I’m getting too worked up over the technicalities here, it is precisely this level of absurdity that has kept me so entertained.

Now, I understand this ISN’T the game. If I wanted to, I could be blowing things up and trying to consort with beautiful alien females, but there is just something about this mining mini-game that both infuriates and compels with equal force. Once I even used my minerals to research improved mining.

For a look at mining in Mass Effect 2, the video below really captures the essence (though don't watch it all!), as does the comment posted on YouTube by one fan: "Where is the best place to find element zero?"
Mass Effect 2 is really very good and when I'm done mining you'll able to read my full review on this blog! In the mean time, for some propper games journalism (including an in-depth technical analysis of Halo: Reach), head over to IQ Gamer.


  1. Launching Probe. Probe Away.

  2. Reminds me very much of the entire construction of World of Warcraft.