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Mass Effect 2 Review

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On 06/01/2010 at 10:44 PM by Stanton Daries

A little more action, a little less RPG, a lot of awesome.

For fans of Mass Effect 1, BioWare’s other offerings, or sci-fi in general. Just be aware that the game will leave you anxious for 3.

Mass Effect 2, the appropriately titled sequel to Mass Effect for the Xbox 360 is an excellent game and is a marked improvement, at the very least in the gameplay department, over its predecessor. In the game you continue your role as Commander Shepherd; Human Alliance soldier, Council Specter and all around badass who’s on a quest to save the galaxy.

From the very beginning, BioWare establishes that this game is going to be different from its predecessor. They send the message through a simple action: killing your character. That’s right; within the first ten minutes of the game you’re sent sailing into outer space with a ruptured suit, leaving your mind running through a list of all your failures, knowing you will never be able to fix them.

This “ending” is the signal that you shouldn’t get comfortable falling back into the world you knew, letting players know that they should expect something different. More so than the first this game, it establishes the galaxy that the writers have so meticulously created and brings it down into a level of gritty realism and tragedy that the first only hinted at.

After your death and subsequent recreation you will discover that in the process of recreating your character that the gameplay system itself has been changed as well. The game has become a true third-person shooter with very few elements of the systems familiar to RPG players. While you still pick a class, your number of skill selections have been effectively cut in half, and the overlap of abilities has been refined to focus on specific areas of combat.

The descriptions of the skills themselves give a very strong indication as to how the combat itself is performed. The game has a very paper, rock, scissors element to it in that the numerous targets to fall under your crosshairs will tend to have at least one form of protection; armor, shields, or a barrier. Each attack you use, including just shooting your weapon, will have a different reaction to the defense, ranging from triple damage to being completely negated. This adds a very nice, yet simple, element of strategy to the game as you can’t just rush into each situation with a trusty assault rifle and blast away without fear.

Speaking of assault rifles, the game deserves major kudos for getting rid of the horrid inventory system of the first game - no more do I find myself wondering just where Shepherd keeps all of those suits of armor and pistols. Enemies only drop credits, heat sinks or various other expendables while letting you purchase or otherwise acquire new weaponry and armor that you have to choose before a mission. Once you find yourself picking your favorite load out you will very seldom find yourself changing it, except for your heavy weapon depending on what you expect in the mission. It should be noted that the game has completely done away with any sort of weapon skill that determines accuracy, now whether or not you get a headshot depends completely on how good you are with your joystick.

RPG fans should have no fear though just because the familiar mechanics have been taken away, the famous BioWare dialogue has done nothing but improve in this game. I was hard pressed to find a scene where I felt the voice actor came across flat or forced when trying to convey emotion. Furthermore, nothing seemed out of place or to hokey, except for some of the romance, which I’ll get to in a bit.

It is obvious that when BioWare made the Mass Effect universe they went beyond just the main story and considered things ranging from economy to racism. Just walking around the Citadel and listening to the news briefs gives a sense of immersion that is lacking in many games today; even the advertisement for an Asari burial shroud made me crack a smile. Each NPC you talk to has a sense of purpose or direction, even if it is just trying to get me to buy a toy ship for my cabin.

The pacing of the game, as is typical for most RPGs these days, follows the “your call” design. The main quest is well established from the very beginning with your benefactor giving you a list of people as equally deadly as you to assemble into a team ready to face the next galactic threat. If you want to follow the main branch without deviation, you can probably beat the game in under 10 hours with little difficulty. BioWare does a great job,though of not just inserting various side missions to keep you distracted, but will punish you for rushing through. At the very least you should look into doing each of your teammates’ requested missions to establish their loyalty.

While some of the missions did suffer a sense of déjà vu with similar terrain or opponent ambushes the mix between exploration and quick tactical fighting never left me frustrated or bored. Eliminating any sort of real treasure system in the game stops you from having to explore all parts of a map, but you can if you want a few extra credits or health packs.

Your real tedium will actually come in how BioWare made up for not having multiple treasure hunts on the ground in the agony of planet scanning. In essence you orbit a planet and slowly move a circle scanner over the surface until you get a resource reading to mine. Then you do it again, and again. The only time I thought I actually looked forward to this was when I had my AI assistant announce I had successfully probed a certain planet in the Earth’s solar system.

The only role-play issue I have with the game involves some of the romance options that exist in the game, and even in this I am split. To me this game had one of the hands-down, best romance options I have ever seen, so good in fact that I was both surprised by it and completely behind the idea of pursuing it,. Though it was impressive, the game featured one of the worst instances of, “Ok I love you even though we just met.” In the interest of avoiding spoilers I won’t get too deeply into which characters I am referring to exactly, but you shouldn’t have too much trouble figuring it out.

As it should, the story of Mass Effect 2 firmly plants itself in the realm of the second installment. It acts as a precursor for an epic third chapter, something that gets all of the backstory and preparations out of the way in an effort to get you excited for what is coming. That isn’t to say the game doesn’t have some impressive action sequences itself, as well as some dire consequences. Your character, or any of your allies, can die in this game and be prevented from appearing in the third.

BioWare is continuing to support the game with a long list of DLC for your perusal, including the ability to pilot a hover tank or acquire two new squad mates.

If you enjoyed Mass Effect 1, BioWare’s other offerings, or sci-fi in general you will not be lead astray from picking up this title. Just be aware that you will find yourself finishing the game with a lot left unfinished and a need to look up when Mass Effect 3 will be coming out.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:

All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.

These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.

This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.

Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.

Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.

A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.



Nick DiMola Director

06/02/2010 at 10:16 PM

I still haven't really gotten into Mass Effect 1 yet, but based on the changes I'm reading about here on 2, I almost want to totally skip 1 and jump to this one.

Stanton Daries Staff Alumnus

06/06/2010 at 01:48 PM

I would say to still play the first game just to have a more personal connection to the returning characters. Also the game will change things based on past decisions you made which is a nice feature.

Really though you don't have to kill yourself exploring everything in the first game like I did as all the decisions were part of the main story.

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