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PC Game Review: Mass Effect 2

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The Mass Effect series, developed by BioWare, published by EA games, adds to the list of reason’s I love gaming. While it doesn’t push any outlandish ideas like pushing a giant ball to collect the universe, nor does it introduce a new way to blast enemies to kingdom come, it did what no one else was able to do: craft a story that could only be told in its medium.

Thane Krio's is SO COOL!

Holy crap! That man's face is GREEN!

The idea of making choices that have an effect on the rest of story progression is far from a new idea, a few games of old and even now did the same thing, but never in such a way that BioWare has achieved. While Fall Out 3 stressed more on classic role playing, giving you total freedom of what you did, Mass Effect focused on a strong narrative without taking the role playing aspect away from the player.

Mass Effect 2 continues to deliver, with more polish and some significant changes from the first game.

You are commander Shepard, the savior of the Citadel and all known galactic space from the first game. As you are cruising along on patrol in the Normandy, your ship and home since the first game, going on reports of supposed bad guys being in that area, you are attacked by a giant space ship. It’s an enemy you’re not familiar with, but you do know it wants you dead. The ship is gradually blown into pieces, Shepard tries to put a few fires out and even gets Joker off the wheel of his beloved ship to throw him into an escape pod. During the struggle however, Shepard gets separated from Joker and the pod, resulting in him being hurled into a nearby planet as he fights for air from the holes torn into his suit from shrapnel. You watch helplessly as Shepard enters the atmosphere, set ablaze.

Yes, the character you have shaped and slowly carved into an iconic hero in the first game, dies a really painful and brutal death in just several minutes into the game. This scene, even without playing the first game, will still be a shock to newcomers. For those that have played the first game, will just be in total disbelief of what they just saw.

Presentation
The starting screen shows you two laptops, much like what you will find when finally inside the bridge of the Normandy. Styling is much like the previous game, except now instead of blue, it’s orange. Importing previous game files from Mass Effect 1 wasn’t difficult, but sort of round about considering how streamlined everything else was.

Graphics
Beautiful, is probably the best way to describe it. Shadows have been made more profound this time around, adding to the realistic look to the game but also easily sets the mood for its cinematic choice of camera angles. From world to world is nearly iconic for any Mass Effect fan, especially places like the Citadel, what used to be the central point for intergalactic relations, and Illium, essentially New York in space.

Game Play

Much like the first game, it’s a third person shooter featuring a party of three. You can take on missions at the bridge of the Normandy, before you go on any mission, you choose what squad members to take with you, preferrably choosing squad members that have abilities to compliment your own in battle. During battles you have your usual squad commands like telling them where to go, when to cover your back and even telling them what abilities to use on your target. Your hud can pause time for a moment to give you a better idea on where you stand by looking around the camera or even just to get a breather. BioWare managed to keep the hud simple and intuitive despite the depth of what you are able to do through it.

You progress through dialogue with BioWares signature “speech ring”. There are times when you can either right click or left click for paragon/renegade events, probably the only quick time event I’ll tolerate cause it’s done intelligently here.

There has been some major changes from the previous game, some appreciated, some less so.

No more stockpile of guns
This was the most necessary change. In ME1, you would constantly pick up duplicate after duplicate of equipment in piles of 3-5, while enemies themselves would also drop loot. This caused needless clutter without the system to even dispose of it properly without visiting a shop to pawn all your wares. In place of this are different gun types, with different styles of play from gun to gun, EX: Shotgun 2 is not better than Shotgun 1, it may hit harder but it will also have less ammo and might even fire slower.

Improved AI
In the first game, my teammates made a habit of just walking straight into gun fire, or not knowing how to take cover. Enemies also did this; sometimes they would just stand still and let me shoot them right in the face, or might just walk right up to me.

Improved Class abilities
The game increased the specialties of each class, making each a much more rewarding experience to play. Soldiers weren’t merely just tanks, now they have a large selection of ammo types to fit the situation they need. Engineers can make combat drones to fight alongside you along with the classic hacking of synthetics. Vanguards can even charge straight into an enemy, through walls and obstacles alike to get into close range of a target. All abilities new to the game, giving each class that necessary personal touch.

Improved Biotic power mechanics
A major change from the previous game is that you can curve biotic powers around obstacles, adding more depth to field control using the large array of powers at your disposal. They also added far more variety and utility to the biotics so they are now more worth using than ever.

Smoother Dialogue Sequences
While the first game had excellent storytelling, it had a jarring issue where characters would reset their animations for different sets of dialogue in one go. It’s as if they planned more choices to be made in between the dialogue but decided they didn’t have the time and just strung them all together. ME2 has these sequences planned out a lot better, resulting in a much more believable experience.

No More Copy Pasta Bases
Side missions in the previous game had you running around generic compounds or labs that were near identical to each other, while the main story didn’t have you running around these places, this made side missions far more tedious then they already were. ME2 has removed this by adding a significant amount of personality to every world you go to, more outdoor environments and even running around the city to hunt down crooks. No more copy pastas.

Stores have items worth buying
Credits actually mean something in ME2, as matter of fact, you can easily burn a hole in your wallet just by visiting a single store. The game no longer offers weapons that could be picked up from the floor, rather they feature desirable, almost a necessary, upgrades for a broad range of your weapons and abilities.

Loyalty Missions
These are optional missions you could do for your crewmates. If you can earn their loyalty by completing their mission, they get a new outfit, and a new ability. The previous game had these as well but they were only for certain crew members and they don’t directly effect the abilities of that crew member either, they did effect certain bits of story progression though so they weren’t entirely useless in the first game, just a little more invisible. Earning loyalty also nets you the power to use that unlocked ability as well, giving you further customization to play style. There are 11 crew members in all, that’s A LOT of powers to choose from! You can only use one at a time so make it count.
Now for the less appreciated changes…

Resource gathering via Probe mini game
Really? We traded the messed up moon buggy for shooting probes at a planet? You basically scan the planet for resources, material which is needed for upgrades for your ship and weapons. You have a little graph to the side that shows you how concentrated that mineral is where you are scanning, when you find a high concentration, you fire a probe to collect. This was okay at first, I thought it was pretty clever, but after 3 to 4 planets,  it gets old really quickly.

Hacking Mini Game for doors and locked boxes (You see where I’m going with this?)
The first game actually had this, but it was used for every single thing, from “hacking safes” to “surveying minerals”, same mini game. They decided to do something different and make firewall hacking and chip hacking! While these aren’t terrible, there are enough doors and data pads to locked crates that’s made this really tedious. Firewall hacking is just matching multi-colored code and chip hacking is matching symbols. Fun…

Clicking a separate button just to confirm choices in menus
Seriously, wtf?!

Ammo based Weapons
This isn’t necessarily a bad change, but a strange one. The previous game used an over heat system instead of ammo. You can fire as much as you want, but only a certain amount at a time, otherwise you had to wait for your weapon to cool down before firing again. Ammo felt like a necessary evil since they went their play style based weapons route, lower ammo counts for more powerful weapons to balance things out, but scouring the field for ammo can be annoying at times. They have small bits of ammo lying around from section to section, but sometimes it requires a lot of holding back on your part. This is especially crucial for classes that depend on certain weapons. As was said before, it’s necessarily a bad change, as it forces you to put more thought into your weapon usage.

Weapons have no written stats
This probably bothered me more than anything. Each weapon has a description as for what they are good against or eluding to their play style, but some descriptions are vague or not even an accurate descriptor. There are shotguns that are supposedly good against barriers but they didn’t hit that much harder than a shotgun that was bad against barriers. Actual figures are posted by fans online but players shouldn’t have to look for such basic info in a guide. The intent was to simplify the equipment process, but your armor selections actually have stats like “5% more Health”. Why can’t weapons? Just tell me how much damage it does and it’s actually effect on shields and armor. It’s not complicated, you won’t scare anyone. Hell, if you’re that worried just use bars to give people an idea of what they are doing, instead of some screwed up logic that “strong against shields” is “+50% damage to shields”.

Lots of changes all around, but the ultimate result is a superior game to the original. If you import your previous character from ME1, choices you made in the game will actually carry over, resulting in a more personalized story. On top of the already well written narrative, this gives each person a different perception of the mass effect universe and its characters, and yet this never takes away from the main plot. The game will constantly give you “Paragon” or “Renegade” choices, either choosing to be the hero that tries to find the “everybody wins” even if it means you have to work harder, or the bad ass hero that uses violence and brutal efficiency, more of a anti-hero. This will shape your perception of Shepard dramatically, and the world around him, making the choices you make a lot more powerful compared to what you might have seen in other games.

There are a few issues with how the story is told, mostly despite the choices you are given, you will feel led by the nose of what choices to make. Say you were going for the paragon route, you come up with a choice involving a criminal that committed mass murder, he tells you his sob story about why he did it. Your choice is to let him go and hope he reforms, giving you the paragon bonus, or to kill him on the spot, to make sure he doesn’t hurt anymore people, the renegade choice. While you want that paragon bonus, you may not necessarily agree with it, saying to yourself “Can’t I just lock him up?”. This is just an example to avoid spoilers, not actually in the game, it usually gives you more choices, and there is often a middle ground choice between paragon and renegade, but that nets you either no bonus to either or equal bonus to both, resulting in basically nothing. Once in a while the paragon and renegade choice system feels like it cheapens the experience, making me lean towards a choice just because one is marked good or bad. If all choices were left open to your interpretation, no obvious marking of good or evil, it would have been a much more enthralling experience.

Sound
Did I mention the game features some of the best voice cast ever? Seth Green as Joker, Jennifer Hale as female Shepard (you might know her as the voice of Samus from the Metroid Prime series) Steve Blum as Grunt (I couldn’t believe it either),  Yvonne Strahovski voice and model for Miranda Lawson, and my own personal little school girl moment: Adam Baldwin as Kal’Reegar. Just imdb the cast for ME2, you won’t find a better all star cast of voice actors. The music in the game will have you pulled into all the intense moments of the story, from the dance floors of Omega to the epic battles against the Collectors, you will believe in the world of Mass Effect.

Replayability
The many styles of play and different approaches to the story that can be made by the player give more than enough reasons to play through the game more than once. Try out different classes, trying the other gender Shepard, wooing a different love interest… on top of all this you also get a new game +. Do you need any more reason to play it again?

Conclusion
The game is a must have. The improved combat system makes the game a joy to play, the characterization is just as strong as it’s predecessor, and the story is one of the most enthralling I’ve ever had the pleasure to experience in a long time. The romance is a little out of nowhere and could use some work in how it’s used in the story but thankfully that’s kept on the side away from the main plot. The story wisks you away into a sci-fi paradise, aliens are honestly no different from humans, in what they like, their passions, their faults, their hatreds, gives a lot of weight to ME’s universe. The fire fights will keep you sweating and there is enough depth to keep you practicing your tactics. What’s there not to like? BUY IT NOW!

Beat the game on normal mode, playing it again on hardcore. Kasumi and Shadow Broker DLC purchased after completion of normal mode.

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Written by vigorot

March 8, 2011 at 6:53 am

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