Developer: Bioware Corporation
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: January 26 2010
ESRB Rating: Mature
Genre: Science Fiction RPG Action-Adventure
Platforms: PC and Xbox 360
Number of Players: One
Mass Effect 2 was very high up on my list of most-wanted games for the first quarter of 2010, and also placed a very close second in our own Readers’ Choice Awards for Most Anticipated Game. Mass Effect 2 even won a convert in our house – The Cavechild did not like Mass Effect 1, but the changes in Mass Effect 2 won him over right through to the game’s final frames and has him looking forward to Mass Effect 3.
For my first play-through of Mass Effect 2 (Collector’s Edition) I chose to begin with a new character instead of importing from ME1, so that I could experience all that the story-line had to offer without paying for the sins of my Mass Effect 1 character. Well, along with the fact that I have not yet finished Mass Effect 1 (again) due to a forced re-start of the game because some less-than-honourable gamer stole my 360’s 120gb hard drive during a LAN tournament.
The opening cinematics for Mass Effect 2 are impressive and set the stage for much of the shiny newness that makes up Mass Effect 2. One of the primary new additions to the Mass Effect world is the Cerberus Network, which is available for free with all new Mass Effect 2 games. According to the Mass Effect site, gamers who either rented the game or purchased it used can still access the Cerberus Network by purchasing the option for 1200 Microsoft points. Messages about new DLC and other ME news will be sent to the gamer through the Cerberus Network interface, and much of the DLC for ME2 is free for those who have the Network enabled in their game files.
It’s hard to not give out any spoilers to those few who have not yet played the sequel – but it was cool having my female Commander Shepard become the new Jaime Sommers, even if we seem to owe allegiance to the Illusive Man for our resurrection – and it appears that much has happened at The Citadel in Commander Shepard’s absence as well, including a reduced explorable area and a different format for stores. That said, we do get to visit some new and interesting locations, such as the miscreant hangout known as Omega and the decadent Illium, where we find Liara T’Soni in her new occupation as an information broker.
There many new and shiny things in Mass Effect 2, not the least of which is the rebuilt Normandy. While maintaining the basic layout of the ship, the technology and amenities have been updated, giving Commander Shepard fancy new Captain’s Quarters which can be decorated with spaceship models, a cute little pet and an aquarium in which to collect exotic fish. I was happy to see that Joker still pilots the Normandy, because I would’ve missed his dry wit. His interaction with the ship’s AI adds an amusing level of conversation to the game, and there are many, many homages paid to SCI FI icons throughout the game. I’m not going to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t played ME2 yet, but suffice to say that it’s important to speak with as many characters as possible throughout the game, as well as eavesdrop on conversations whenever possible.
As with Mass Effect 1, you gain Codex entries and experience points for talking to people and finding bits of information as well as for completing missions and assignments. The storyline takes a number of interesting twists, and regardless of all the Illusive Man (voiced by actor Martin Sheen) appears to be doing to help out, I do not trust him. Not one bit. Something in his eyes says he’s up to something, and I’m sure we’re going to find out what it is in Mass Effect 3.
Naturally, your actions throughout the game will effect how the story goes for your character, and will also effect the appearance of your Commander Shepard. Sometimes the conversation choices are not easy to make, regardless of how predictable they may seem as far as Paragon/Renegade choices go. Sometimes you will not find out until very late in the game how a conversation option you chose has effected the storyline, which can prevent you from getting an achievement. One new addition to conversation options is Interrupt, and Shepard’s ability with Interrupt, which allows for more physical action, is usually related to the Paragon/Renegade level.
One change in the game that I definitely did not like was the planetary scanning and mining. I liked being able to land on planets in the “rover” and drive all over the place and using the big gun to blow enemies into little bits. Those of you who have read my other reviews know that I am not a skilled video game vehicle driver, but I still derive much amusement from commanding and destroying vehicles. Unless there’s a race that I have to win, then it can be a bit frustrating. But, back to Mass Effect 2. Bioware did redeem themselves on the lack of a rover with the newly announced Firewalker Pack, which includes the M57 Hover Tank and five new missions. The Firewalker Pack is scheduled for a late March release, which follows the recently released Arc Projector – a very nifty Heavy Weapon which unleashes more mayhem and destruction on the enemy.
I did not find the new “scan and shoot probes” interaction to be engaging at all. I would much rather have been able to land more often and either have a scanner/probe function built into the rover or have the old method of locating something and then getting out of the rover to investigate. The number of actual landings often involved very limited explorable areas and quite often jumped to a cinematic when it became necessary to leave a location in a hurry. I liked having to run through collapsing archaeological digs in Mass Effect 1, and would’ve liked to have continued that type of game play in Mass Effect 2. I did find the space travel parts of the game somewhat more interactive than it was in Mass Effect 1. Now the player has to watch fuel consumption when flying around the galaxy, as well as stock up on probes. The only dog-tag collecting mission was okay, but I personally like having lots of things to collect, and there doesn’t appear to be as much to collect as there was in Mass Effect 1.
I did like the new method of obtaining and upgrading weapons, armour and the Normandy. Using the computer terminals to research new technologies was much better than unlocking crates and storage units – and often forgetting that I was carrying a lot inventory. That said, it was also nice in Mass Effect 1 to be able to sacrifice some of that extra inventory for omni gel when it was needed. There are lots of new and improved weapons to obtain, and we all know that one can never have too many big guns.
For character attributes, I preferred all of the options which were available in Mass Effect 1. In Mass Effect 2 there doesn’t seem to be as much thought required for where experience points get put, which to me means that you don’t need to put as much thought into how you balance your team. I found that I often used the same characters on each mission, unless a choice was forced due to the story line. That said, I suppose that part of the reasoning behind this change was that this is a sequel – and Shepard should by now know how to use all of his/her skills – the same with the highly trained band of misfits in the squad. So, I can see the logic in this change. There are also many new powers to learn, and ammunition is handled differently than it was in ME1. Another change I greatly appreciate is the ability to map powers on the 360 controller. I found that playing Dragon Age: Origins has made me a better Mass Effect player in regards to squad skills, and the extra mapping just adds to this, so thank you, Bioware.
One thing that I did like was how team members and characters from Mass Effect 1 were worked into Mass Effect 2’s plot line, and Mass Effect 2 knew which (if any – don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t played ME1 yet) team member may have been “sacrificed” during the Virmire Assault. This was especially interesting for me, because Mass Effect 2 was making choices for me based on my original (prior to my hard drive being stolen) ME1 game play, not my current play-through, which hadn’t yet reached Virmire. I have since completed that mission, making different choices than I did with my original play-through, so it will be interesting to see if my next full play-through of ME2 registers the changes I am making with this new ME1 voyage.
I found the writing much improved in Mass Effect 2, although at times I felt that the voice-acting for some of the characters was at times just a bit 0ff. In my opinion, the proper vocal inflections were often not achieved, particularly in the human characters. This tended to make the conversations seem a bit stilted when I was hoping it would be improved over Mass Effect 1. I did enjoy the diverse character stories and backgrounds, and often spent time “talking” with characters in order to learn more of their stories. Codex and experience points had nothing to do with that. They were just a side benefit to sometimes finding out some very surprising and humourous tidbits about my crew members.
Thus far, I have found the assassin Thane to be the most interesting new character with the greatest amount of depth to his story, but I am looking forward to another play-through which will add Morinth to my squad – just to see how that will effect the story and character interactions. I am also looking forward to adding Kasumi Goto to the squad once she becomes available in April via DLC for 560 Microsoft points.
It is important to note that Mass Effect 2 is not really a game which can be rushed through in the way that some gamers seem to enjoy rushing through a game as fast as they can, often skipping key game components. If Shepard is taken into the end game missions without due preparation of the entire squad, chances are the mission will not succeed, and Shepard may even end up in deceased mode. A deceased Shepard cannot return to gameplay after the credits nor be imported to Mass Effect 3, so therefore the player must plan to stay alive – and hopefully the full squad survives as well.
The only real problem I have with Mass Effect 2 is that my character gets stuck every so often – either by falling into a hole, getting pushed up on top of a crate by squad members, or stuck in an invisible wall – or a wall that is there but with a partial travel path through it. These events are very frustrating, because there is no way out. For some reason Shepard cannot jump down off of a crate or up out of a hole, and can’t back out of a wall. While Shepard can leap over cover, this is not possible to escape a hole because the walls of that hole are not recognized as cover. This meant that I had to start over from my last save point, and if I had overlooked saving my progress recently, this was sometimes really, really maddening.
I was not at all disappointed with Mass Effect 2 and I would highly recommend it to those who enjoy single player RPG adventures. While others have said the game doesn’t hold that much replayability for them, I feel quite the opposite. I feel that the Mass Effect franchise has loads of replayability, not only for various story outcomes, but also different experience levels, plus the direction of the story line in Mass Effect 3 has led to much debate and conjecture in the Village Gamer house.