- Platform: Windows PC, Xbox 360
- Rating: M for Mature
- Content descriptors: Blood, Drug Reference, Sexual Content, Strong Language, Violence
Mass Effect is one of those rare gems that takes your gaming experience to a whole new level. Amazingly, Mass Effect 2 has found a way to improve upon it’s storytelling from the first game. ME2 is a sequel that can compare to the likes of The Empire Strikes Back, The Godfather II, and even The Dark Knight, by giving you another deeply enthralling story to suck you in and keep you playing until the wee hours of the morning. But the story isn’t what will shock your socks off this time around. It’s the gameplay.
Bioware came barrelling into the New Year with ME2 and it’s safe to say even this early that it will be in the running for Game of the Year. If you think that statement may be a little premature, think again.
ME2 begins where the first one left off; Commander Shepard is traversing the galaxy, hunting down the sentient AI known as the Geth in a fit of extermination fever. Within the first 10 minutes of popping in your disc, Bioware sets off a firestorm of storyline shock and awe. From this point on, the drama and surprises continue in a well planned and well-paced manner. Shepard becomes involved with a pro-human organization called Cerberus, led by a shady character known only as “Illusive Man.” Entire human colonies on remote planets are disappearing at the hands…er, talons of a race called the Collectors, who were previously only regarded in legends of the Milky Way’s past. Since they wouldn’t be the first long lost evil to show up recently, questions are rising about their true motives. This time, Shepard must take the fight to a dangerous solar system that’s the equivalent of the galaxy’s Bermuda Triangle to find the truth and save humanity.
In order to do so, Shepard needs to collect a team of ‘the best of the best,’ designated by the controversial Cerberus. As you recruit your new teammates, you are given a chance to learn intimate details about the characters through “Loyalty” missions. There were opportunities to help out your teammates in the first Mass Effect, but these loyalty missions are far superior in depth and helpful in vital decisions you have to make based on your knowledge of these characters. It makes life a little easier when the final suicide mission rears it’s ugly and deadly head, giving you advantages you wouldn’t have had before. By helping your teammates and gaining their loyalty, you are also investing yourself that much more in ME2‘s emotional conclusion.
Bioware is known for it’s storytelling, and especially in Mass Effect, the sense of being a part of the plot and owning the consequences for your actions has been a big hit with their loyal gamers. Bioware really cranks it up in this sci-fi sequel by adding a series of ‘interrupt’ action buttons during conversational cut-scenes. These score you big points toward your preferred style of playing as either a Paragon or Renegade. Making Shepard give a sick alien some Medi-gel or taking an interrogation just a little too far are just the tip of this interesting ‘interruption’ iceberg. Where Mass Effect gave you a few important choices in a fairly linear story, ME2 is an intricate labyrinth of gameplay decisions that will all effect the outcome of your play-through. There are multiple possible endings that are all determined by how the gamer chooses to play, and it leaves you pondering just how early in the game you started making choices that caused either your desired or regrettable conclusion. These little spur-of-the-moment actions take the role-play aspect beyond simple decision making and allow the gamer to have a hand in forming the actual drama of their play-through, whether you choose Paragon or Renegade actions, or both, or choose not to act on them at all.
To compliment this amazing story, Bioware decided to hire top-notch actors to ensure an engaging experience. Mass Effect 2 is graced by the talents of Martin Sheen, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Seth Green, Yvonne Strahovski, Adam Baldwin, Keith David, Michael Dorn, Battlestar Galactica pair Tricia Helfer and Michael Hogan, and Carrie-Anne Moss.
The real pièce de résistance that makes Mass Effect 2 truly a masterpiece is the combat system and gameplay. When you encounter enemies, your two AI squad members aren’t the ‘artards’ they occasionally could be in the first go-round. You can still direct them to use certain powers or weapons against certain enemies, but they are very good at taking the initiative to use said items efficiently and correctly. The use of any power temporarily causes all other powers by the chosen character to be put on lock-down while their Omni-tool cools down. Though the length of the cool down time frame has decreased from the first game, this creates much more tactical decision making on your end as you battle it out. You can either hit the enemies with a massive attack from all three of you at once, or divvy them up for a steady stream of traditional, biological, and technical firepower.
This new take on the combat system puts a lot more emphasis on your third-person shooting skills, which in turn requires a look at the new weapons and inventory usage. Rather than giving you multiple brands within each gun classification (each with varying strengths and weaknesses), ME2 gives just a couple of options for each. As you progress through the game, you come across one or two better versions of each weapon class, virtually eliminating the need for an inventory system. Some gamers may be taken aback by this notion, but in all honesty, it was a blessed relief. To be freed from the burden of carrying around a ton of weapons in case you need them was truly a novel idea, and opened up new opportunities for personalization of your weapons and a real sense of gravity to the importance of upgrade selection. As you purchase or research an upgrade, it is automatically applied to that object, which can be used by any or all of your characters at the same time. The same applies to your armor. You are offered just a couple of types to pick from, but the customization is once again the key. Upgrades are available for pieces of the armor, e.g., gauntlets, grieves, helmets, etc., and you can create all kinds of combinations to give you different boosts in health, shields, ammo, and cool down time, to name a few.
Shepard and his crew gain XP which reverts into skill points, but ME2 changed this system up too. Now there are only four slots to fill in each category, making the skill tree much simpler. Again, some gamers may find this a little shocking, but the pay-off is that once a skill is fully upgraded, you are offered a choice between two different types of mastery. The skill points aren’t handed out like candy either — you really have to prioritize and decide how you want to form your teams, what skills work best for your combat style, and which characters will compliment each other. A plus is that about midway through the game, you unlock the ability to reallocate your skill points for Shepard, albeit at a fairly high price.
All this upgrading is going to cost you, and here in lies yet another tweaked and much more functional system: currency. There are different types of resources that are used for currency. The first of which are credits; they allow you to buy certain upgrades right off the store shelves. Second, you find loot while performing and completing missions. This time though, it is automatically reverted into credits in your account if it’s an object that you won’t actually be able to use. Finally, you have minerals. You can find them laying around while doing missions, or you can go mining for them on planets. Not one of these currency types are more abundant than the others, so prioritizing again becomes a huge factor in your upgrading choices, and basically tosses power-leveling and grinding out the window.
Let’s talk about the mining aspect. In the original Mass Effect, mining was one of the big function flaws that had you tediously exploring a clunky map in the even clunkier MAKO vehicle. This has been completely done away with and replaced with a probe-launching radar detection system in which you scan the surface of the planet, and use a graph and controller vibrations to launch your mining probes. While it’s a much better solution to the economy balancing system that Bioware has produced, it is still tedious and time consuming. You have to hold the left trigger while navigating with the analogs sticks, and it is a very slow process. It does it’s job by discouraging gamers from mining too many minerals at once and upgrading too fast, but there has to be a better way to do that then with the MAKO and the radar-probes.
The radar system is just a tiny blemish on the face of an inspiring and magnificent game. If you had reservations about the original game, put them aside and give the sequel a shot. You will be pleasantly surprised. If you have never played Mass Effect, there is no need to rush out and play the first game before playing ME2. There are a few savory treats for those who played the first game, including the ability to upload your pre-existing character and lots of familiar faces from the original, but the dialog allows for a little background in the story for those who are new. The real magic of Mass Effect 2 is in all the effects it will have on you. You will become engrossed by the riveting storyline, awed by the beautiful graphics and music, empowered by the complete personalization of the game, marvel at the sheer enormity of the content, and find satisfaction in the combat system of an action-adventure RPG.
I give Mass Effect 2 5 “Awards” out of 5.
by Rachael Edwards Hite, Staff Writer