Review: Mass Effect 2
Mass Effect 2
Role Playing Game, Third-Person Shooter, Western RPG
Review copy provided by the publisher
Bioware has once more seen fit to allow us to enter the awe-inspiring, dangerous, provocative universe of Mass Effect – and what a journey it is. From the sleek, clean lines of the previous game’s Citadel, to the cool mysteriousness of the Asari colony world Illium, and on to the rough and tumble debauchery of Omega, we’re taken on a wild and crazy ride that surpasses the original in almost every way imaginable. We meet interesting characters with greater depth than the likes of Master Chief or Cloud Strife and are allowed to shape the way the universe perceives us and the outcome of many a situation by the way we act and the decisions we face more than any other game that has come before.
Just about everything in Mass Effect 2 is arguably improved over the first title. Initially, before I got my hands on the game, I was worried about reports of the game removing the inventory system altogether (instead of refining it), removing individual mob kill experience, removing the many options of armor and weapons we had in the first game and adapting the fast-paced battle system into an even more streamlined shooter. I admit, I was a bit hesitant. While I do still miss some of those aspects, I have to say that the refinements actually work to make a better game, even if those same changes also serve to shift the game’s genre to something I’m unfamiliar with. As with any good Bioware game, though, it is all built around the story.
While playing through this story, I was so engrossed in what was going on – regardless of what I was doing in-game – that everything else around me just faded away. I wasn’t sitting on my sofa staring at a television, I was actually there, watching these events unfold, watching these conversations take place and enjoying the ambiance around me. Conversation trees naturally flow from one topic into the next when you interrogate someone for more information. It actually sounds like you’re having a conversation and isn’t just an algorithmic response to the choice you make. There also seem to be more decisions, more dialog and more ways to drive a conversation than there was in the first game. There is also a new “interrupt” feature that appears at various points in certain conversations. When the interrupt icon pops up on screen during a conversation, if you hit the corresponding trigger button you’ll stop the conversation in its tracks and perform an action. Which action you perform depends on whether it is a paragon interrupt or a renegade one. Sometimes both appear, sometimes it’s one or the other, and it is not based on your current morality level. You can choose to make use of the interrupt or not, you can choose a renegade response if you think it’s best for the situation, even if you’re wholly paragon and vice versa. It adds a wonderful new dimension to conversations. My only problem is that I wish there were more instances where these interrupts become available, as they’re pretty sparsely used throughout the game.
In the various areas you visit, the art direction, along with the musical score, work together to define each location – its attitudes, its philosophies, its inhabitants, its culture, its boundaries. From the largest city to the smallest ship, each location is unique and inviting. You don’t just go there because you have to for part of the story – you want to go there, you want to get involved in the culture, you want to eavesdrop on conversations of the inhabitants, you want to explore. The conversations you can overhear, the constant news broadcasts, people passing you by going about their everyday lives, the vendors trying to get you to check out the latest and greatest merchandise, the setting of each location, the milieu, the need to be there – it all adds together into a miraculous bundle of elation that I’ve rarely, if ever, seen or felt before in any game I’ve played.
Cover plays a more important role in this second game, as well. I find it highly satisfying to duck behind cover, popping up to take potshots at the enemy. This is even more fun if you can use sniper rifles, which is honestly one of my favorite aspects of battle, sitting back taking out enemies from afar while my teammates get their hands dirty. Again, choosing your party members correctly for any given situation is a help, but not a necessity. It’s more fun to choose according to your play style. I enjoyed usually having two biotics accompany Shepherd on her missions, because I have decent weapon skills and, most importantly, the ability to use sniper rifles. Throw in bits and pieces of engineering-related skills and a cloak, and I was pretty set by myself. Pair a couple heavy biotic users like Miranda, Samara or Jack with my Infiltrator and we can pretty much handle any situation if I play smart. If you want a more “in your face” team or a full team of snipers, you have that option, too. There are so many party members this time around that you can pretty much have any group make up you can imagine.
Upgrading your skills works much like the previous game. Each time you level up you acquire skill points to use for every party member, regardless if they were with you on the mission or not. These skill points are used to improve various skills. The skills are fewer in number than the previous game, but still potent nonetheless. When you reach the maximum level for a skill, you can choose one of two different evolutions for that ability. One usually is more offensive in nature, and one is more defensive. Although, with biotics, your choice tends to come down to a more powerful single-target ability or a less powerful area of affect application. Again, it all depends on your play style.
What comes as an odd surprise, given the amount of RPG elements Bioware completely dumped, is how you can aesthetically customize your armor. You have a few variations of armor to choose from for Shepherd to use in the field, each with a slightly different stat boost. From there you can choose the gloves, boots, helmet and shoulders, as well as change the color, material and pattern of the gear itself. This is also where you can swap to the various special armor sets that you may have acquired through other means, like the Collector’s Edition armor, or the Dragon’s Blood armor from pre-ordering Dragon Age: Origins way back when. Unfortunately, you can’t remove the helmet at all from these sets (even during cut scenes), so that kind of defeated the purpose for me, since it screwed with my immersion.
The larger of the three mini-games is the planet scanning and mineral finding aspect. At any time once you have freedom of movement with the Normandy, you can explore planets and scan them for resources. To be quite honest, this is the biggest issue I had through the whole game. Planet scanning is fun the first few times, but very quickly it gets boring and repetitive. It also made my left hand cramp up on more than one occasion. When you scan a planet, you enter into orbit and must hold down the left trigger to scan. You can’t let this up or the scanning action will stop. As you hold down the left trigger, you move the scanning reticule across the planet, while watching the read-out to the right of the screen for spikes in any of the four mineral columns. When there is a spike of any size, you’ll know it because the controller will vibrate. At this point, you’ll want to find the peak of the spike and hit the right trigger to launch a probe to the surface, thus gathering the mineral. This method of mineral extraction definitely fills your need for upgrades easily, but it is incredibly boring and tedious after a while. There are a lot of planets to explore initially, and even more open up as you progress through the game and purchase star maps for other clusters.
The trick to this is spreading it out between missions. Don’t progress half way through the game before you decide to start mining ore, because then you’ll be stuck needing upgrades and having to sit for hours on end going through this mind-numbing mini-game repeatedly. Instead, after each mission make sure you do a bit of mining, and you should have no problems affording the upgrades you need to help your crew through tough times ahead.
There are also optional side-quests you can take part in, although it seems to be a fewer number than the first game, which is unfortunate, as it was one of the few Western-style RPGs that maintained a constant focus on the main story while giving you a sizable number of options for side-questing and exploration. But, in the second game, that focus is increased even more, not just through the fewer number of side questing options, but by giving you good galactic navigation and creating a psychological need to progress with the story through a sense of urgency and commitment to the task at hand. Whenever you back out to the galactic map, which shows up when you get ready to make a jump between clusters, you’re shown in no uncertain manner exactly where you need to travel for each main story related mission – it’s a constant reminder held over your head that you have those out there, waiting for you. Although, when you do partake in side quests, they’re often more interesting than the reused mine or bunker destinations from the first game. Some side quests are more information-related, and those take place generally on major hub worlds such as the Citadel, Omega or Illium. There are also some quests that take you out into the galaxy at large. Even some missions that seem to be related to the main story may be optional, such as recruiting certain party members or completing their personal loyalty quests, as the game only requires a certain amount of these quests complete to continue with the story.
But, ultimately, you do have a lot to do between major story missions, so you’re never really left hanging at any point, including fraternizing with your crew. Like the first game, you can become romantically involved with a member of the crew. The options open to you vary depending on your Shepherd’s gender, as some members of the crew will fall for the opposite gender only, while some will go either way. It’s all about the dialog options, which is why it’s important to make the rounds after every mission and speak to all your party members, as well as some other crew members such as your pilot, yeoman and doctor. Sometimes, though, I kind of wondered if a conversation would ever progress past the point of being a professional relationship between two ship-mates. Sometimes you can go for very long stretches – several story missions worth of time – where the crew members will basically tell you to get lost, they don’t want to talk now. On top of that, as soon as you start a crew member’s personal quest, they won’t speak to you about anything else and will constantly ask you if you can ferry them to the location they requested. This is a bit annoying and, in a way, misleading, especially for those who actually want to garner a deeper relationship with a certain crew member they have their eye on. Ultimately, though, the flaws in this title, while definitely present in certain aspects, are far outweighed by the sheer enjoyment of traversing this galaxy and following these characters on their fast-paced, possibly deadly, quest.
- Game: Mass Effect 2
- Platform Reviewed: Xbox 360
- Developer: Bioware
- Publisher: Electronic Arts
- Release Date: 1/26/2010
- MSRP: $59.99
- Review Copy Info: A copy of this game was purchased by DualShockers, Inc. for purposes of this review.