Delayed into this year, Mass Effect 2 was one of my personal “I can’t wait to play” games. I was lucky enough to play the first hour, have several interviews about the game, and amazingly scored a copy from a local Gamestop, when the release date is so soon. After sitting down with it over the weekend and taking in the new, redefined universe, I can safely say that you will love this game.
Mass Effect 2 is an RPG that’s pushing the boundaries of different genres, including within it a huge story, a vast number of characters, fast-paced and intense combat, and a ship to travel the galaxy with. Fans of the previous title shouldn’t be confused, this is not like its predecessor. BioWare’s touted the sequel to the award winning Mass Effect to be much darker, and as the game repeats far too often, a suicide mission.
Indeed, it’s very necessary that characters such as the Illusive Man, an information titan with unlimited wealth voiced by Martin Sheen who guides Shepard through the game to continually remind players that there’s the chance you will not make it back alive. This is for two reasons: the final mission can be undertaken almost entirely at the player’s discretion, and a large portion of the gameplay can be skipped as a risk. Why? Because it’s up to the player to make key decisions.
Decisions are another far-too-often proclaimed right that the developers drive into player’s heads. Far too often characters such as any of the ten teammates protagonist Commander Shepard can recruit simply pass on responsibility to the player. In fact, most of these characters ended up being very two dimensional, only acting in their self-interest on their character-specific missions. While most players in Mass Effect found Wrex to be the most enjoyable character because of his charming and lovable personality, Mass Effect 2 lacks such a character. They all unwittingly lack a background, and as the recent advertisements suggest, mostly have a thirst for blood.
And like these crewmembers, the general plot suffers compared to the original. No longer is Shepard chasing a singular foe, using investigative prowess and skill to track down a rogue Spectre, guided only by a misleading galactic Council. In Mass Effect 2, players are introduced up front to the game’s end: travel through the Omega-4 relay and destroy the collectors, all within the first hour and a half of gameplay. A brief introduction introduces players to several key characters, basic gameplay mechanics, and ends almost abruptly as dossiers are thrown onto Shepard’s lap.
This time, Shepard is more of a sheep dog, rounding up the sheep while the true shepherd sits in a $20,000 leather chair, nursing a glass of scotch and a cigarette, watching a sun on a massive screen.
While the overall plot is mediocre and the characters are weak, the individual subplots and missions are extremely well written. Character dialog is excellent, far improved from the past, and Shepard’s responses are much closer to the dialog choices given. In the original, there was often a disconnect between a dialog option and what Shepard actually said. A plethora of secondary characters, either providing new missions, some form of guidance or random jibber-jabber all had excellent dialog. There are so many conversations available, and not one was worth missing.
Thankfully, there are a great many sub-plots to enjoy, and a larger galaxy to explore. 15 different star clusters, each with at least one solar system, provide an exceptional hunting ground for finding new quests to undertake. Traveling between these star clusters is accomplished through “Mass Relays” as in Mass Effect 1, though getting from one solar system to another is an entirely different matter.
In Mass Effect 2, there is no car. There is no searching long-dead worlds for ruins or scavenging dead bodies on derelict ships. The grind has changed, from finding anything worth selling to searching planets from a distance with probes, in order to find raw minerals. Every uncolonized planet is fair game, which can easily lead to hours and hours of sending out probes in search of Paladium, Platinum, Urinium, or the very exquisite Element Zero. These minerals will then allow players to upgrade everything, meaning armor, weapons, powers, and even the new Normandy.
Yes, this means that there is no longer 15 different pistol models. Weapon and armor customization is almost completely gone, but you won’t miss it. Instead, players can put their focus on the mission at hand, but those with wandering minds and hearts can easily seek out ways to improve both their skill and style. Those into customization can buy collections of model ships, purchase fish for the Commander’s fishtank (located in his quarters), and look for new wardrobe items.
That doesn’t mean there’s no more grinding. The Normandy requires fuel and probes to find more raw materials, which cost money. Planets must be sucked dry with a boring grind that involves players shooting probes at various parts of a planet’s surface. When the signal shows an element is there, shoot a probe and it’ll feed the materials into the ship.
Yet of all the new that Mass Effect 2 brings, the most involving and rewarding is combat. High-intensity, fast paced and frantic combat all occur regularly, and it is very fun. What class you play as (one of six: Soldier, Engineer, Adept, Infiltrator, Sentinel, and Vanguard) and which characters accompany you play a tremendous role in how combat will play out. As a soldier, you may take a more head-on approach, but as a Sentinel you may draw the enemy towards you, slowly whittling their health away from a distance.
Because combat changes so drastically depending on which class you play as, I must recommend playing the game more than once. While BioWare has stated that each and every playthrough is different, I can say with certainty that every combat situation will be different considering the class you play as, which crew members you bring to the fight, and what abilities you’ve given them and yourself.
Besides the standard gameplay fare, Mass Effect 2 is improved everywhere. The graphics have been updated tremendously, load times have shortened drastically (no long elevator rides!), and cinematics are very well done. Sadly, the recent marketing videos are all CGI, far ahead of anything in the actual game. Only the audio is lacking, with much of the same tones and tunes repeating from the original game and only a limited number of tracks that will have any impact on the player whatsoever.