The amount of hype Mass Effect 2 has been receiving for the past few months is setting new records for video games. The first installment received a lot of criticism, but with scores of 9.5+ from most mainstream reviewers, Mass Effect 2 is truly setting the bar for the entire gaming industry.
In late 2007, Bioware’s ambitious roleplaying, first-person shooter ‘Mass Effect’ was released. Bioware was praised for their incorporation of incredibly cinematic gameplay that complimented a storyline rivaling some of the most famous space operas in entertainment history (Star Wars, Star Trek, etc…). While the conversation styles, graphics, and voice acting were leagues ahead of competition at the time, there were still several issues that gamers pointed out – myself included. The combat system was far from seamless, useless upgrades seemed to multiply like space bunnies cluttering the equipment screen, powers were often confusing, there were no tutorials, side missions were shallow and repetitive, the game would occasionally lock up, texture loading often couldn’t even keep up with the game’s graphics engine, and don’t even get me started on the elevators. All these (minor) complaints aside, I have to admit that Mass Effect 1 is one of my favorite games of all time and it deserves more credit than people seem to give it. The storyline is outstanding and Bioware’s famous plot twists make writers like M. Night Shyamalan hang their heads in shame.
The second installment of the Mass Effect trilogy (once again) proves that Bioware is so far ahead of the competition. All of the complaints listed in my little rant above have been refined, polished, and perfected. This game doesn’t play like a movie, this game IS a movie! The story continues shortly after the ending of the first game and the opening sequence will have you on the edge of your seat the entire time …no spoilers here, no matter how early in the game it is. 🙂 You continue playing as Commander Shepard, hero of the Citadel and the rest of the galaxy. One of the most personalized factors about this game is how you can import your saved file from the first game and continue from that point. Not only do you receive in-game bonuses, but ALL of the decisions you make in the first game have a significant impact on the second. But don’t feel like an outsider if you haven’t played the first game yet, the second installment is a completely unique experience by itself (although I do recommend playing ME1 for the significant amount of in-game references).
The characters of Mass Effect 2 have deeper backstories, unique abilities, and are voiced by a group of top notch actors. Martin Sheen, Carrie-Anne Moss, Michael Dorn, Seth Green, and Tricia Helfer make this more than just a gaming experience – you are completely engrossed within this galaxy after the first two hours and you become the self-proclaimed director of your own major motion picture. Dialogue interaction is identical to ME1 – the conversation wheel still works just as well and the writing is superb. However, Mass Effect 2 incorporates a new action/dialogue system that allows players to perform paragon (good) or renegade (bad) actions depending on the moral choices throughout the game. This concept gives Shepard the power to charm crew members into a romantic relationship or snap a mercenary’s neck mid-sentence – the choices are yours.
In addition to the new dialogue options, one of the greatest improvements since ME1 is the combat system. Biotic powers can now curve around cover, exposing enemies to attack. Squad commands are much more useful and the AI isn’t useless anymore. Guns now require ammo (or Thermal Clips) and three powers can now be mapped to specific buttons. The power and weapon wheels are still there, so strategic players have time to pause and analyze the battlefield before issuing orders. Mass Effect 2 is much more combat-based and it works very well.
The Mako is now gone and planet exploration is restricted to scanning for minerals (which can be quite tedious) and specific side missions (which are unique in every way). The menu screens are also much improved. The messy equipment menu is completely gone now – Shepard and crew find new weapons on missions as the game progresses. These weapons can be upgraded and mass produced in the Normandy’s armory for the rest of the team. The leveling system is much simpler, but more effective at the same time. Depending on which class you choose at the beginning of the game, Shepard gains access to six unique skills. As teammates become more loyal to you, new powers are unlocked and act as bonus powers for Shepard (similar to ME1).
One of the most relieving aspects about the new leveling system is that Shepard can reallocate points anytime for a certain price. This doesn’t mean starting an entire new character to try out a specific strategy or build. The classes are so unique in Mass Effect 2 that you will want to beat the game with each one of the six! If you prefer stealth, choose the Infiltrator who can use a Tactical Cloak to snipe enemies and hack mechs, or if you prefer rushing into the heat of combat, try the Vanguard’s powerful biotic Charge and Shockwave abilities. Either way, it is a completely unique combat experience each time you replay the game.
While Mass Effect 2 is a near-perfect achievement for Bioware, there are still some issues to recognize. I found Shepard getting stuck in certain parts of the game, unable to move and occasionally the sound would cut out during dialogue. Towards the end of the game there are a lot of cinematic scenes and I found these to be quite choppy. The cutscenes didn’t flow smoothly together – they seemed pieced together from small segments (which change depending on certain choices you make). Loading times are also quite long and the game crashed twice while I was playing it. Still, my biggest complaint is (ironically) with the main plot. The side quests and character missions are simply incredible, but there were not as many plot twists as I had hoped. Simply put, I never really experienced that ‘whoa’ factor that hit me over and over again in ME1. There was only one significant plot revelation and it wasn’t enough for me to give this story an A+ like Bioware’s other masterpieces.
Mass Effect 2 is one of the best games ever made. Period. If you haven’t played it yet, go out and buy this game now. It offers a completely unique experience for each player – consisting of dozens of critical choices that must be made throughout the entire game. The new combat system and menu screens are much more polished than their predecessors and the character development is much richer and more rewarding. While the story wasn’t as revolutionary for me personally, it was still solid and was supported by exceptional side quests and vast galaxy exploration. Jack Wall’s score is stunning and the music is used at the perfect places throughout the game. Specifically, listen to tracks ‘Suicide Mission,’ ‘The Normandy Reborn,’ and ‘Legion‘ for a brief synopsis of the game’s futuristic score. I’m on my third playthrough of this game already and it has been a unique experience every time. In short, Mass Effect 3 cannot arrive soon enough.