We don’t have time for this idiot! CHARGE!
Mass Effect was a surprise favourite for me. Initially I dismissed it as console Action RPG trash. Let’s face it, most RPG games that are sent to the console tend to end up as pointless bullshit, with DA:O and Oblivion some notable exceptions. Still, I found that Bioware managed to create a fantastic story with entertaining characters, while wrapping it in an action environment which made the game exciting and, at times, oddly deep. Never before have I been happier to randomly purchase a game without bothering to look into it that much. Then again I got it on the PC, and the fact that it was a mostly fantastic port helped. Then again these days any console games that don’t use mouse acceleration and let me click on GUI elements generally win by default, so that’s not saying much. Still ME was a massive game (pun intended, heh!) that you could easily play several different times. It also gave you some interesting choices, which at the time which made actual difference in the game.
ME2’s big draw card for me was importing my ME save game and having all those decisions carry across. Deciding to save the council, deciding who dies, and so on carry across as major decisions, but what stunned me was how seemingly inconsequential decisions (like letting a minor character go free, or completing an out of the way side quest) still appear in game every so often. ME is tightly integrated with ME2, which will no doubt be integrated with ME3 in a similar way. Although it’s technically possible to play ME2 without playing ME, to be perfectly honest, you’d be missing a major piece of the plot, and largely wasting your time. This is the one time where you really need to play the original. You’ll get lost if you haven’t, and if you have played and you import your save game, it’s much more entertaining.
ME2 starts with the Normandy being destroyed by an unidentified alien ship, with the majority of Shepherd’s crew getting out alive. Shepherd is killed, but is brought back to life by Cerberus, who were portrayed as xenophobic, pro-human nut jobs in ME. Shepherd is brought back and told he’ll be working for Cerberus to stop The Collectors, who appear to be abducting human colonies for some reason. Are they connected to The Repears? What do they want? Who the hell are they? That’s your goal. You report to The Illusive Man, who directs you to go assemble a team and then get off to work. How you choose to deal with Cerberus is largely up to you; the game lets you put blind trust in them or accuse them of backstabbing you at every turn. It’s entirely up to you, but like all RPGs, there’s still a clear progression point towards the end of the story.
Like in ME, ME2 gives you a long list of objectives and then more or less leaves you alone for a while to choose how you go and complete them. Much of the early game is spent assembling your team; you recruit all sorts of allies from across the Terminus Systems – much of the game takes place out in this lawless part of space, though you can go back and visit the Citadel and a few of the Council systems. The party characters have been greatly expanded; there’s enough to make up a sizeable squad, though you still only choose 2 to go out on missions with you. Tali and Garrus return from the previous game and can be recruited again (which I’m pleased with because they were my two favourite characters from ME) but the others reappear in supporting roles, provided they didn’t die in ME. That’s part of the fun with ME2; seeing how everything has changed in the 2 story-years that you’ve been away and seeing what everybody is up to these days. While assembling your team you’ll get missions from The Illusive Man, and your party will ask you to perform special missions for them to boost their loyalty, as well as unlock special powers and abilities. It’s well worth doing this and you’ll need to if you want to ultimately succeed in the game. Your actions will determine your final success at the end of the game, so people who take it slow will get a better outcome.
Lots of gameplay elements have changed. Most obvious is that the weapons now use ammo, and the inventory system has been scrapped. Ammo is fairly easy to come by (it’s practically everywhere) but in a protracted firefight with inaccurate weapon you’ll be forced to swap, and you’ll want to conserve ammo just in case more enemies appear. This also means that you’ll be forced to use your other weapons because you run out of ammo or to maximise effectiveness. In ME all you had to do was manage heat, so you could pick one gun and stick with it. ME2 forces you to use everything you have. There’s also no weapon training anymore; each class has its specific weapons it can use, and that’s it. Inventory is now gone – you find weapons or research them, and there’s few clear upgrades. Each has its benefits and problems. Armour is also changed; there aren’t as many suits, and most of the time you’ll be swapping out different pieces to give you different bonuses. Some might increase storm speed or give headshot damage bonuses, others will let you carry different ammo. Fortunately this system isn’t like WoW, where there are massive differences between armour piece visuals; the entire lot is just a basic design with minor aesthetic differences, and you control the colour of the suit as a whole. No bright red shoulderpads with pink pants.
Research is a new element to the game. You’ll have to research new weapon technologies, armour bonuses, and upgrades for the new Normandy ship. To do all this you’ll need to find or buy technologies, and then get resources. How do you get resources? You visit planets. ME had you land on planets in the Mako (also known as one of the most frustrating vehicles in gaming history) and drive around for ages. ME2 skips that and makes you drag your cursor across the planet and scan for resources. You launch probes (which can be purchased from Fuel Stations) to collect resources. Missions on planets are dealt with in the same way – the scanner alerts you to the mission, and you launch a probe. Speaking of buying things, you now need to manage fuel. In the Terminus Systems there aren’t many mass effect relays to get you from system to system, so you’ll need to burn fuel to get from local system to system. If you run out of fuel, you start burning resources. Fuel and probes aren’t expensive, so it’s not like it’s a big problem. Also you only really need to do this with exploring; most mission objectives are linked by relays, and the game highlights the lot of them on the main map anyway so there’s no guesswork.
Graphically, ME2 is much the same as ME. It’s fantastic, and it’s FAST. It’s a great engine, with great textures and good animations. There are a few upgrades but it’s much the same as the last game. The game’s cinematic effects are used to greater impact this time around, and a lot of the animations used during dialogue delivery work extremely well. Most RPGs have characters standing there, stiff as boards, occasionally flicking their head or waving their hands. ME2 characters stand, sit, drink, and do all sorts of things, as does Shepherd. Coupled with some of the best voice acting in gaming today, it makes for something that’s almost like playing a movie. The slightly upgraded engine also allows dialogue to flow more fluidly; there are fewer boring pauses where the game loads the next dialogue file, creating a gap between the last delivered line and the next line that breaks the flow. It’s awfully fluid and well delivered. There are also chances to interrupt dialogue by performing specific actions, like headbutting some asshole or stopping someone from shooting somebody else. In terms of length… this game goes on for ages. ME’s main quest alone takes many hours, and if you added in the extra plot lines, it could easily go well over 48 hours full time gameplay. ME2 is no different; it’s HUGE, you won’t breeze through it in 8 hours. I haven’t finished the main quest, and I haven’t even been checking out too many of the side quests, but I’m nearly up to 24 hours.
I really can’t find too much to complain about, except that there are a few collision bugs, which let you get stuck on furniture and other objects (or sometimes outside the level hull) and the squad AI needs a bit of improvement for finding cover. These problems existed in ME, which doesn’t surprise me. I also don’t like the new galaxy map; I should be able to just click on a destination, not hold down the mouse button and guide the ship around like a dog. Where else am I supposed to go? The old one worked fine, why change it? Also I dislike the new orange colour scheme. Yeah, I know, it’s a new game therefore a new colour scheme seems appropriate, but it burns the eyes a bit. Cool blue was much better.
Wow, 2010 is going to be an awesome year. AvP, Bioshock 2, SupCom 2… it all happens this year! Mass Effect 2 has shot out of the game and Bioware have proven that they know how to make a good western RPG. ME2 is fantastic; it creates a great blend of action and RPG elements. The cast are absolutely fantastic. The storyline is great. Honestly, I can’t find too many flaws with this game except for a few collision bugs. At first ME2 might seem like a bit of a turn off because it is quite different from its predecessor, but after you get over that, you find that the brilliant writing and direction behind ME is present here. And I’ve never seen a sequel integrate so well with the events of the previous game as well as ME2 does with ME. The Mass Effect series (there WILL be a ME3, ME2 makes that absolutely clear) are a new favourite in my book, and it takes a lot to get into my book these days. Well done, Bioware. Just… well done.