We are in the season of sequels. With titles like Modern Warfare 2, Bioshock 2, and Assassin’s Creed 2 beckoning you with their come-hither gleam from high atop their respective shelves, it’s no easy feat to pick just one. Mass Effect 2 will not make your decision any easier. If you have any history with the game’s developer, Bioware, your situation should be just the contrary. You need Mass Effect 2 and you need it now.
EA bought Bioware sometime between the launch of Mass Effect 1 and the development of Mass Effect 2. While many feared what this titan publisher might do with the franchise, I must assert that the change was really for the better. The sequel was bolstered by a much more pervasive marketing campaign with a bevy of television spots and internet ad placements. They made damn sure that everyone knew what this game was and that it was going to be so undeniably badass. This is a game that, for once, lives up to the hype of its advertising. I would go so far as to say that Mass Effect 2 surpasses the hype of its own marketing.
Before you continue on your Mass Effect adventure, the game’s starting menu asks if you’d like to import a save file from a completed career, or begin anew with a different Shepard. The save import system worked flawlessly and this is no small feat, considering the skepticism harbored by gamers. Bioware once again broke unfamiliar ground with their backwards support, streamlining the old with the new so that you literally feel like you’re picking up right where you left off. It’s as simple as highlighting your old save file and hitting the “A” button.
We meet our masked Shepard aboard the MSV Normandy, where our old pals Pressley and Joker are puttering around the galaxy, eliminating the remaining Geth strongholds. Things seem all fine and dandy for about two minutes. Then, a new threat known only as, “The Collectors” warp in out of nowhere and flay your beloved spaceship in such an overwhelming display of technological prowess that I was damn embarrassed for my Shepard (SPOILER ALERT). Really. It was humiliating. Like opening a can of Spaghettio’s with a table saw.
I don’t know about you, but I tried avoid as many spoilers as possible before embarking on my space adventure. So when it was revealed to me that my Shepard sacrificed herself to save Joker from certain death, I pretty much wet myself. Watching her flail through the vacuum before eventually suffocating was, well… awesome. The rogue human organization Cerberus then swoops in for the remains and the, “we can rebuild him” cut scene commences. This is where you decide what your Shepard will be from here on out. If you imported your game, your choices are somewhat limited. You’re offered the option to change your character’s appearance. Cerberus is attempting to bring you back exactly as you were… so I’m not sure how this makes any sense of the story line. It’s a nice gesture on Bioware’s part, but makes no sense logistically. If you’re starting anew, you select your class, military background, and your facial features.
Here’s how the character creation goes down in ME: 2
The first mission isn’t as instance as the ones that will follow. You’re introduced to squad mates Miranda and Jacob, who you will most likely abandon once you’re introduced to the new cast of characters Bioware put together. You’ll see a lot of familiar faces. From there on out, though, the heat is on. I found that classes really did affect the first few missions much more than in ME1. As a Vanguard, my limitations with weapons really weighed me down, especially since your biotic powers don’t blossom until many levels later. I played on normal difficulty and died frequently. Luckily, the mission restart option allows you to try the whole thing again without wasting much time. Others who played as a Soldier found themselves sailing through the first ten hours of the game while I struggled to get out from behind piles of crates.
The beauty of this game is that Bioware actually seemed to take fan suggestions seriously. Gone is the messy inventory system and in its place, the exact opposite. You equip your gear in your quarters on your new, better Normandy. Weapon loadouts can be arranged for each party aboard the ship, or before each mission. The downside of this is that you have no control over the stat bonuses that your other squad mates received. Once loyalties are attained, you can change their armor to an alternative color scheme, but this is purely aesthetic. I actually missed being able to outfit my crew to my liking. Still, I didn’t miss sorting through piles and piles of junk ammo buffs.
Leveling up your character is also very different. You no longer receive experience or credits after defeating enemies during firefights. Rather, the rewards come after the mission. Once you’ve completed your objective, you’re taken to a Cerberus screen where your experience is tallied and your level updated. Skill points are harder to come by, but this ends up working out for the better since you have fewer skills to level up. You’re on Cerberus’ payroll, but you can find extra cash by hacking safes and datapads out in the field. Side quests also offer small amounts of bonus experience, which is granted immediately after completion.
Oh, right, let’s not forget the hacking system. So much better. Bioware threw out the, “Simon Says” method of hacking terminals and replaced it with two different mini games that actually require some skill. Datapads are usually hacked by matching streams of code while locked doors can be opened my matching nodes with varying notations. Both are essentially matching games, but they’re different and entertaining enough to warrant some appreciation.
The combat is just as fast-paced and exciting as its predecessor, if not better. Squad AI is deadly. In smaller skirmishes, your team mates may actually wipe the floor with your enemies before you even have a chance to pull the trigger. You now have limited ammunition, but you find clips often enough that you’re saved the stress that often accompanies survival horrors. You’re not counting bullets, but you’re still very aware of how many clips your shotgun has left compared to your assault rifle. It takes some balance, but it’s a smooth transition.
Also, certain conversations don’t seem to drag on at all anymore thanks to the introduction of interrupts. Going down the Paragon path? Then pull the left trigger to stop the bad guy mid-sentence and save the underdog quarian. If you’re just a big fat jerk, pull the right trigger to taser a man in the back before he can say “thank you.” Just remember that your actions will affect your appearance, just as they did in Knights of the Old Republic. If you go rogue, you’ll end up all scarred and ugly. (If you feel like going completely bad but hate all that evil looking skin, there’s a med-bay upgrade you can apply to the ship for a mere $50,000 which will make you look good as new while retaining your badass reputation)
Heres some in-game combat/convo footage taken from the Windows version of the game
This game is a vast improvement over the first with improved texture loading and more dynamic cinematics. There are, unfortunately, some things that don’t work. The planet scanning, while more involved than Mass Effect 1, is the worst offender. You invest a great deal of time and resources into research projects in order to unlock ship enhancements as well as armor and weapon upgrades. All of these are integral if you’re looking to survive the suicide mission. The kicker as that these upgrades all require thousands of units of four different types of minerals. The only way to get a substantial amount of them is by scanning countless planets for hours and hours and probing the hell out of them. You’re mining. Farming, essentially, and it’s about as fun as it sounds. You keep poking a planet until it’s depleted, rinse and repeat. It’s an incredibly slow process that’s only rewarded for the first three or four times you do it.
Bioware gave us a massive galaxy with dozens upon dozens of planets to scan, but we can’t explore them. There’s no more free roaming. No more Mako, which may or may not be a blessing. Combat missions are linear and have no maps. These alien worlds offer no chances to explore. They just sit there, waiting for you to strip mine them from the comfort of your ship. I was halfway through the game when I realized I needed no more resources and Bioware left me with no reason to explore the 75% of the galaxy I had left untouched. There’s no achievement for getting 100% in every system . . . So why then? Why provide so much content if there’s no boon for exploring it? I can only hope that DLC will someday prove me wrong.
Speaking of DLC, I have yet to download anything via the Cerberus network that’s worth having. The custom armor, Zaeed, and the Normandy pack are disappointing. There’s not much to be had other than a handful of experience and a flamethrower. A mission that could have been nostalgic and emotional ended up flat and downright boring. Oh, yes. The Cerberus Network. Did I mention that you can only access your downloaded DLC if you’re connected to live? Even after it’s been implemented into your game, you’re stuck. You can’t access a save file if it’s linked to DLC and you’re not online. EA has to verify every time that your gamer tag has authority to access the content that’s already on your hard drive. If you’re like me and you roam with your 360, this is a big problem. ME2 will let you start a new game without this content, but you’re absolutely not allowed into your pre-existing save file if your rights can’t be verified.
While this is a damn good game, it’s not without flaws. With the increase in romantic options comes a shortage of dialogue. Characters repeat themselves often and don’t seem to be quite as developed as they were in ME1. Additional romances are interesting and entertaining, if not awkward. Bioware has done away with the more risque make out scenes and replaced them with more chaste moments. With such a large cast, it’s hard to really delve into all of them, but this leaves me with a sense of wanting. I would like to have seen more development with these characters. Still, what we do have here are some intriguing back stories coupled with excellent story telling. I just wanted more.
This is not a perfect game, but it’s pretty damn close. There are tiny places you could nitpick, like Shepard’s unusual reaction to learning of his/her own death. There also seems to be a disproportionate number of Renegade interrupts available compared to Paragon. There are way fewer side quests than before…. but really, this is nit picking.
Mass Effect 2 is a fulfilling second installment to this trilogy and I eagerly await the third. I can only assume that it will be even better than the rest.