Mass Effect 2 Review

It’s a great time for gaming when sequels begin to offer so much more than just simple rehashes, but instead entirely redefine their respective franchises. Following hot on the heels of incredible sequels Assassin’s Creed II and Uncharted 2 comes Mass Effect 2, a game that has seen such improvement over its predecessor that it feels like a brand new franchise, and is easily an early front-runner for 2010 Game of the Year candidacy.

Mass Effect 2 is the second part in BioWare’s trilogy about Commander Shepard and his epic adventures to save the galaxy from the ancient, bio-mechanical super-species, the Reapers. This time, and without giving too much of this top-notch narrative away, the focus is on building a team to act in retaliation against “Sovereign,” the Reaper threat from the first game. Working with fringe organization Cerberus and its mysterious leader, The Illusive Man, Shepard’s new mission takes him throughout the Milky Way in a captivating adventure that meanders considerably on the way to its exciting and suspenseful conclusion.

Mass Effect 2

One of the biggest problems with Mass Effect was BioWare’s struggle to integrate solid shooting mechanics into their RPG framework. The game’s combat sections were simply less fun to play than its conversation-based story segments. This is no longer the case. Mass Effect 2 is as much a shooter as it is an RPG, from a gameplay perspective; the two halves have now reached a balance, and any cross-section of this game will yield at least a small taste of combat, dialogue, and exploration. Combat is smooth, seamless, and enjoyable, and strong enough to stand alone without the role-playing aspect of the game acting as its crutch. Issuing orders to Shepard’s party is simple, effective, and gives the player nearly full control over all three of the characters in the active party at once, either via real-time, hot-keyed commands or more tactical pause-menu selections. This increases the player’s options in battle based on the powers of whoever Shepard has brought along for the given mission, and induces the rare feeling of truly operating as a team, in synergy, to achieve goals and defeat the enemy. Characters in the squad are no longer vibrantly characterized through narrative and then transformed into cardboard throwaways during combat — they are now important members of the team at all times.

Additionally, the six classes available for players to apply to Commander Shepard at the game’s outset further diversify the combat experience. Each class, from the stealth, ranged combat specialism of the Infiltrator, to the kamikaze, weapons-and-biotics-style Vanguard, to the droid-controlling Engineer, dictates a different approach to confrontation. There are far fewer attributes and powers for players to manage, streamlining the user interface and departing from western-RPG tradition, but the powers that are included are all useful, and will be used throughout the game. In fact, there are no personal stats at all, no on-hand items, and very few weapons to keep track of, which will make haters of the first game’s inventory very happy, but may disappoint those who would rather see a still-extant, yet improved system.

Mass Effect 2

Weapons in Mass Effect 2 are fairly bland. Players will use the same few guns for much of the game, which can be a downer for arms junkies. Collecting various minerals on the many planets surrounding the many stars in Mass Effect 2 does allow for upgrades to weapons, armor, powers, and the ship, though — a process that can be either compelling or annoying… or both. The system is such that at least some time must be spent scanning in order to reap the full benefits of upgrades. Depending on the type of player, one may pour hours into exploring the galaxy and probing for minerals, or may simply avoid ever improving any of the aforementioned components due to the grind of exploration, which amounts to directing Shepard’s ship, the Normandy, across space maps and then moving a cursor along the surface of an on-screen sphere until the scanner responds. The rewards, however, are worth the trouble, especially in the game’s later stages.

The other reason for exploring planets, which is to discover rogue radio signals that lead to hidden side missions, is far more rewarding on a personal level than on a material level. Scanning dozens of planets and then suddenly happening upon a planetary anomaly is an exciting experience, and only adds to Mass Effect 2‘s space traveller fantasy. And unlike its predecessor’s side excursions, these missions offer the player real, fleshed-out gameplay, each involving a minor objective, with or without combat, and rewards of money, materials, or experience points. Luckily, finding one of these missions only requires a brief visit to a planet’s orbit, and not a thorough scan.

What works especially well for Mass Effect 2 (and has been taken advantage of to a greater degree than in Mass Effect), is the creative freedom the outer space setting has afforded the developers. Theoretically, nothing is out of the realm of possibility regarding the game’s setting because they would need only to create a new planet with entirely new rules. From a highly technologically advanced metropolis, to a harsh, chlorine-gas-filled rock world inhabited by nothing but giant insect-like creatures, to a planet where the star’s light is so powerful that it will quickly deplete the squad’s shields if they step out of the shadows — and plenty falling in between — Mass Effect 2 diversifies its environments exceptionally well, and that makes visiting the game’s various worlds all the more interesting and exciting.

The feeling of space travel is well conveyed via the game’s overall presentation, be it docking cutscenes, loading screens with 3D maps (even though loads are frequent and lengthy), the multi-layered and delightfully detailed galactic map, thoroughly saturated codex entries, or the information obtained through conversations between characters. The game is visually impressive due to the artistic design of the planets and characters, the screen-filing effects of powers in battle, and the excellent cinematography of the cutscenes, although it is technically flawed with occasional texture pop-in and character-model clipping issues. The audio is top notch, from solid voice acting and sound effects to Jack Wall’s incredible score, which is quite possibly the best I’ve ever heard in a videogame. The orchestrated soundtrack’s epic outer space theme blends perfectly into the action at all times, and this backdrop only improves the experience as players fight, converse, learn the scientific, economic, and political histories of stars and planets scattered throughout the Milky Way, and explore a bevy of unique environments before heading to the game’s final confrontation.

Mass Effect 2

The tasks players complete throughout the game, aside from planetary scanning, are well-integrated into the story. Though they are listed as “missions” in Commander Shepard’s journal, nothing is derivative and little feels gamey about them. Each is distinct, despite the obligatory combat throughout most of them. The fact that the player is constantly experiencing something new, and it is all tailored to the narrative, helps the game to flow at an excellent pace and keep the player involved in what is going on in the adventure.

While very light on traditional RPG elements, BioWare’s distinctive “conversation game” style is at it’s best in Mass Effect 2, making this semi-real-time, third-person shooter a true place for players to assume the role of a character and embody a personality in an interactive story. The variation in Shepard’s spoken responses are more clearly influenced by the choices on the dialogue wheel this time. As well, the Renegade/Paragon consequences and points are liberally doled out after conversations, making players feel as though every word counts and engaging them more completely. The improved battle system may place more of an emphasis on the team, but players’ choices during the role-playing segments make Mass Effect 2 a story about the individual hero and his relationships with everyone surrounding him, each of whom are very deep characters with gradually revealed histories, personalities, and psyches.

Mass Effect 2 is a captivating experience that begs to be played and replayed. Its phenomenal presentation is augmented by its enjoyable combat, deep character development, and epic narrative, and only minor quibbles exist in each of these areas. Play this game; you’ll be treating yourself to greatness.


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Author: Eddie Inzauto View all posts by
Eddie has been writing about games on the interwebz for over ten years. You can find him Editor-in-Chiefing around these parts, or talking nonsense on Twitter @eddieinzauto.

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