Review by MJEmirzian
"A mediocre WRPG/TPS hybrid with a meagre plot"
This review is spoiler free. Mass Effect 2 is an RPG/TPS hybrid. It strips out the customization of an RPG while keeping the mindless resource grinding, and tries to be an TPS yet fails with clunky controls/terrain and boring combat.
Plot, Character Development
Mass Effect 2s plot is dull, lacking in direction and narrative. The main enemy group are the vaguely defined Collectors, and the plot reveals about them are hardly surprising or dramatic. The majority of the game is one large side quest dealing with recruiting teammates then helping with their personal issues to gain their loyalty so they don't die in the final mission. The recruits are just not that compelling to warrant taking up 75% of the games main content. There is no nemesis like ME1s Saren to drive the plot, and if you cut out all of the recruiting and loyalty quests, you're left with a 5 hour game at most. Even worse, the final boss and new plot reveals are shockingly corny and just plain 'jumped the shark' silly, even for a mainstream sci-fi tale. The game feels like one big diversion, with the final mission payoff being a laughably corny and just plain bad plot reveal.
The main content of the game is incredibly boring - recruiting your allies almost always involves taking out color coded merc cannon fodder, and the loyalty quests are either mercs or parent/daddy issues. Compare that to the epic scale of the missions on Feros, Noveria, the Prothean ruin, Virmire, the final ME1 mission, or other top WRPG plots. ME2 is a boring soap opera in comparison.
There are rarely any big decisions that make the player feel like they've made a large impact on the game world (I counted two total, both near the end of the game). None of the quests are open ended with multiple methods of completion, unless you count failure of the quest. Fans of WRPGs who enjoy the open ended quest options of classics like Fallout 3 will be highly disappointed in the braindead, decision-less missions here. The one compelling and plot-heavy character (the last one recruited) could have had a much more involved presence in the game, instead of being dumped in your lap during a mission. There's plenty of wasted potential to go around. Almost all of the quests involve Shepard going around taking out bland color coded merc groups that have no plot presence other than to be cannon fodder. Even ME1 was better in this regard.
The side quests, or should I say side-side quests, are meaningless and empty. They consist of the same short segments of running around blasting generic mercenaries or robots, with almost nothing in the way of plot development, moral based decision making, or even voice acting. Once again even ME1 wasn't this bad, even though it re-used room layouts.
The combat is a fairly dull TPS affair, even on an Insanity New Game. Enemies scale poorly vs your gear and ability upgrades, to the point where formerly threatening enemies are cannon fodder by mid-late game. 95% of the games fights are 'take cover far back enough that you don't get flanked', and the other 5% are 'kite the husks'. A good 2/3 of the fights in the game can be won just by putting your squadmates behind cover and letting them kill everything. Due to auto-regenerating health, the only way to die is to be caught out of cover, so once you find a good spot it usually doesn't matter how long you take, you are going to win eventually. The game lacks any sort of scoring system to encourage the player to perform more efficiently in combat.
The cover system is clunky and glitchy. Bioware tried to shoehorn TPS combat onto an RPG engine and the results are predictably under par. For example you have to crouch behind something before you can leap over it, which is a pain when there is no other way around the barricade. Further adding to the irritation, the run and crouch buttons are the same, meaning you can be trying to move somewhere quickly in close quarters and suddenly find Shepard cluelessly attaching him/herself to a structure you didn't intend. I assume this is because they ran out of buttons on the 360 controller. In addition there are quite a few pieces of terrain or objects that are impossible to use as cover, even though you should be able to. Not to mention that it's common to get stuck on terrain, due to the clunky movement and terrain boundaries that hinder the TPS experience. On Insanity if Shepard is out of cover for more than 2-3 secs he/she will die, so it can be frustrating to lose in an unfair manner due to poor cover controls and poorly coded cover areas.
There is very little creativity in any of the games battles. This is made worse by the lack of abilities and character customization. It's all endlessly running from cover point to cover point, using the same 1-2 abilities and shooting the same looking/behaving enemies. Boss battles are similarly boring and uninspired. The lack of creativity is so apparent that you can tell exactly where enemies will pop up ahead of time just by looking ahead and spotting the next rows of conveniently placed rows of cover. The TPS genre has seen far more exciting, creative, and strategic battles before, and you won't find any of them in this game.
The planet scanning and resource farming is a complete waste of time. Players will not enjoy the tendinitis that ensues from fighting the controller/mouse drag. Having to fly the Normandy around using fuel is similarly pointless. Why they kept the time wasting elements of the RPG genre while snipping the character customization remains a mystery.
There are better open ended morality based WRPGs and far better TPSs out there. Go play the best of either of those genres and avoid this mediocre hybrid.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.0 - Fair
Originally Posted: 02/02/10, Updated 02/03/10
Game Release: Mass Effect 2 (US, 01/26/10)
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