Review by XZero219

"Not enough of a great thing"

We'll start with the strong points -

GRAPHICS: 9.5/10
The graphical presentation was great, overall. Character models were better (particularly the facial expressions) than the original, textures were better with less lag/delay/pop-in, and the cutscenes were first rate. Overall, the entire presentation had a less "sterile" feel than that of Mass Effect. But then again, it is over two years later. One complaint I had, while not technically a graphics issue, is that the appearance customization was not really improved in any way from the original, as were led to believe would be the case. Considering the level of customization available in the most recent BioWare/EA game, Dragon Age: Origins, this was a let down. I was looking forward to refining my ME Shepard's appearance, but it was the same old stuff.

GAMEPLAY: 8/10
I really loved the improvements made to combat. The ammo system made you may more attention, and while the bloody border around the screen when damaged is now a tad derivative, it allows you to keep your eyes on the action. I like being able to combine biotic skills with each other and with weapon skills, and the cover system has been refined. It's not Gears of War or Killzone 2, but this in an RPG. What I don't like is the lack of customization options. While I was no fan of juggling inventory in ME, neither am I a fan of the severely limited options in ME2. Fewer skills, fewer levels, fewer items. Not so good. Though to be fair, the ability to tweak Shepard's appearance and spruce up her/his cabin was an amusing touch.

The dialogue wheel works as well as ever, and your paragon/renegade choices carry more weight. The choices you make have consequences that are a lot more apparent than just opening up dialogue choices. Losing the Mako for exploration was a change, but at the end of the day the scan/probe system isn't any less tedious, and gathering materials is a lot more important. Credits are also of increased importance, as you aren't just going to stumble on the best items in the game (what few there are) like you did in Mass Effect. These changes make you plan a bit more, which is a good thing.

SOUND/VA: 10/10
First rate, what can you say? Great sound design, and a deep, talented cast of voice actors. Strangely, the male Shepard VA is probably the worst of the bunch. The only complaint here is that some of the VA's didn't get more lines.

STORY: 7/10
This is a real mixed bag. On the one hand, I found the characters deeper, more compelling and lively than in Mass Effect. The loyalty missions added a lot to the character development, and I felt beholden to the needs of the crew to a much greater degree than in Mass Effect. The interactions were much better, with better conversations. There was a real sense of camaraderie. I liked all the characters, with the exception of the DLC character Zaeed, who in addition to being unpleasant, felt thrown together and redundant.

The ability to import you Mass Effect save and the bonuses and plot permutations (though relatively insignificant in the grand scheme of ME2), was a great touch. Having to worry about violating relationships forged in the last game added another element of depth to the game.

Where the story falls short (as does the game) is in the length. You start, recruit you characters, do a side mission for each of them (which are optional), do the small handful of plot quests, gather some minerals and do a few of the limited number of short sidequests, and then the final mission is on you.

Throughout the game you feel as if you are preparing for something epic, and really get into it. And just when you are thinking the plot is about to crescendo, you realize the game is actually about to end. You hope it isn't, but then it does. The climax of the game lasts about 30-40 minutes, literally. Without spoiling anything, the final events and the factors that dictate how they play out are cool, but the whole thing should have been drawn out a lot, lot longer. The end comes abruptly, and it's disappointing. I know the middle part of a trilogy can be tricky to make compelling, but this was a real letdown, especially considering how strong what preceded it was.

OVERALL:

Mass Effect 2 is a great game that improved on the original in many ways. Having said that, it lacks the epic tone of the original. While that is to be expected due to it's narrative placement, the truncated way it ended really left a bad taste in my mouth. Due to that and the enormous expectations I had for it, I have to rank it behind it's predecessor in terms of overall quality.

It felt like about 3/4 of a truly epic game.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 02/03/10

Game Release: Mass Effect 2 (US, 01/26/10)


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