Friday, February 5, 2010

Mass Effect 2 Review

When the first Mass Effect was released it instantly became on of my favorite games.  Bioware had crafted an amazingly rich and detailed universe, populated it with genuinely interesting characters, and used them to tell one of the best sci-fi stories I've experienced.

What Bioware did with Mass Effect 2 is to improve on the first game in almost every way.

From the get go, you can import a save from the first Mass Effect.  The choices you made in the first game do have an impact on the second.  What I found pleasantly surprising were some of the way even minor things from the first game carried over into the second one, helping to increase the sense that the world of Mass Effect is a living, immersive world.  For example, while riding in an elevator during the first game I heard a news bit about a person named Kitt putting together an all-elcor production of Hamlet (which is funny if you had talked to the elcor ambassador and learned about their emotionless way of speaking).  In the second game a terminal was actually advertising this production.  Similarly, a minor character who gives you an optional side-quest in the first game turns out to be a more important character in recruiting a particular party member.

The story itself is slightly darker than the first.  After nearly being killed, Shepard is revived by the terrorist group called Cerberus.  During the time that he was out, the Alliance and the Citadel Council have convinced themselves that Sovereign's attack was an isolated incident and that the Reapers aren't really a threat.  Human colonies are disappearing, though, and the Illusive Man behind Cerberus believes that a mysterious race known as the Collectors are behind it.  More importantly, the Illusive Man believes that the Collectors are working for the Reapers, and he's recruiting Shepard to put together a team to stop them.

And what a team Shepard puts together!  Without giving too much away, only two of the party members from the first game return.  This seems disappointing at first, but you quickly become attached to the new crew.  In typical Bioware fashion, each of the member of your party is a well-developed character with their own personality and back story.  In fact, it will sometimes make it hard to do choose which members to take on certain missions.  You might know that a certain party member will be more effective against a kind of enemy you expect to face on a mission, but on the other hand you might really like another less effective member.  Mordin Solus, the salarian, was a particular favorite of mine.

The most jarring change is probably to the gameplay itself.  Many of the RPG elements have been stripped down.  All of the characters have fewer options for using their skill points, fewer ranks to buy, and fewer points are awarded.  There are fewer weapons, and once you find one any party member that can use that kind of weapon are upgraded to it automatically.  There are no weapon mods (special ammo becomes an ability for different characters).  And Shepard is the only character who's armor you can customize at all.  Combat is less about a weapons damage, accuracy, and heat stats and more about how well you as a player can aim and how much ammo you have.  Heath and shields also deplete (and recharge) much faster, placing a greater emphasis on finding and using cover.  At first, this seems like a turn off, but the reality is that after playing for awhile it makes the combat more intense and the inventory management much more streamlined and certainly more accessible to a wider audience.

2010 is just a little over a month in, and I know we've got a ton of great games to look forward to this year.  I wouldn't be surprised, though, if Mass Effect 2 is mentioned in Game of the Year discussions a year from now.

Final Score: A+

1 comment:

Rick said...

Mass Effect 2 complete. Holy god, what an ending! I thought through most of it the story was somewhat lacking, until that last 20 seconds.....Bioware, you are gods. Definitely better than the first game. My only complaints are somewhat short campaign, although there was a fuck ton of game, the campaign itself was a tad short, and I would like to see a bit more RPG elements return, in addition to more city exploration. However, the party stands out as possibly the best ever in a game. Namely Mordin, Garrus, Legion, and Thane. Although a work of miracle is that I LIKED TALI. I detested her in the first, but I actually liked her in this one. Bravo Bioware, bravo.