So, last night I brought Jebediah Shepherd from Mass Effect 1 into Mass Effect 2. Well, technically I did that a couple nights ago, but I actually started playing the game last night and did the first couple of missions. I've played through the game before (no worries, I won't spoil anything plot relevant here) and rather enjoy it, so you can imagine my surprise when on this - my approximately third time through - the game pointed out something to me that I had never actually given serious thought to before. Namely, the benefit a battle map can have.
This isn't going to surprise anyone, heck even I was aware of it, but a battle map's best function is to make sense visually out of the chaos of combat. Mini players are now reading this and going "Wait, it took you this long to realize that?" which is a fair assessment, but there is a bit more to it than that. The organization, yeah sure, but I mean you can be organized and not have problems even without a battle map. I've seen it, hell, I've done it. Only, there are times when it does all fall apart, and that is where the map comes into play.
Take for instance the recruitment of Archangel in Mass Effect 2. He is one of the first people most players get (you're already on Omega afterall), and the set up is fairly simple. Archangel is holed up in a building, the only way in is across a bridge. Three large gangs (more criminal empires) are trying to kill him. Their problem? Archangel is a hell of a sniper, and has a ton of ammo up there. They bottleneck, he snipes and kills them, and they can't get through. It is actually a fairly simple situation isn't it, so why would that of all things show me the benefit of a battle map?
It's the tension. The growing exhaustion and fatigue. The inevitability of the situation. All of these you can convey without a battle map, but with one you can SHOW the players it. You can move the pieces, slowly walking them down to the point. They kill two, three a round but it doesn't matter because five or six more hope over that wall and start coming. Like I said, you can do this without the map, but the visual element just really helps with conveying it.
Elementary? Sure, but to someone who has practically sworn off minis and maps it was an interesting premise. I'm going to have to see what else I can do with maps and visuals to add tension in combat now, especially if such a simple scene can be spiced up with it.