Review by Z1ZYX
"Good, but not the best"
So, before I say anything that will open floodgates of hatemail, let me preface my review by saying that despite it's flaws I still love this game. It's not getting game of the year, but it definitely makes me want to see how it will conclude.
With that out of the way, let's begin.
To start off, while the gameplay has been greatly improved in some areas, many of the best things about the first game have disappeared as well.
The gunplay in Mass Effect 2 is a significant upgrade over the original, with each weapon type more suited to it's specific role, along with a greater emphasis on marksmanship due to the integration of a headshot mechanic. The enemy AI is far more intelligent, using cover and abilities to far greater effect that in the first game. Regretably, this new emphasis on gunplay has brought with it many of the most annoying trends of the FPS genre.
Remember back in ME1 when you would have those moments with your whole squad dead and only you alive with a sliver of health, praying that the enemy you were fighting didn't come around the corner? No you don't, because in Mass Effect 2 the whole health and shields mechanic has been scrapped in favor of a far more idiot-friendly regeneration system. Now, when you are having one of those "Oh Crap" moments, the game helpfully tells you to get your ressurected ass in cover and wait for your body to spontaniously heal itself. The only thing that makes it more bearable is the fact that the enemies now know that when you're in cover you're healing, so they meander on over to help you out with a bullet to the face.
While we're on bullets, the second most piss-all-annoying thing is the bullets. Or rather, lack thereof. Now, I played as a Vanguard (my favorite class in the first game) hoping for some fun, close-quarters shotgun action. And after about five seconds of using said strategy I ran out of bullets. Yes Bioware, we know that the overheating system annoyed some people. But I have serious doubts that giving people only 20-odd shots for their primary weapon (except pistols and AR's) is any way to endeer your fanbase. The game is even lousy about explaining it too. Thermal Clips? Why not just let the weapon vent the damn heat? Evidently we've gone back in time rather than forward.
Finally, the new skill-point system is going to make anyone whose played a Bioware game before wonder when they replaced their staff with howler monkeys. You have 6 skills total for your class. Thats right, six. Not only do you lose all the experimentation from the first game, but you essentially make every class turn out the same. There might be a variation or two, but in the end it's all pretty samey.
Additionally, while the skill point system from the first game remains, it is put together in a very annoying way. Rather than putting it into what you want, far too often you are simply forced to 'save' your skillpoints in order to get a big upgrade. Being the indecisive, easily distracted fool that I am, too frequently I would put a point into a useless skill because I was irritated by that big number floating above my head in the squad screen.
Fortunatly, your squadmates are a bit more effective in this game, as they both better know when to use their powers and benifit from the same improved AI as the enemies. Considering 80% of the game revolves around your squad, I'm a bit suprised that they have even fewer choices than Shepard in terms of skills. 3 base skills, with one unlockable from their loyalty mission. Shai-ai-ai Bioware, wasn't the whole concept behind your studio in producing games for people more intelligent that a six year old? I feel a little offended that you think I'm so incompetent as to need a minimal number of choices so I don't get confused.
Lastly, all the inventory management and stat tweaking of equipment is gone as well. Instead, you simply get generic 'upgrades' that improve your abilities. And you now shoot probes into planets from orbit, mining minerals, rather than driving about the surface on a tank hunting artifacts and treasure.
Sometimes I wonder what they were thinking.
Now, for all I ripped on the gameplay in the previous section, I must say the story makes up for it. Rather than the simple 6 main missions in Mass Effect 1, ME2 makes it a lot more entertaining and useful to do all those side quests before heading into the maw of hell.
Because I don't consider interactive cutscenes to be gameplay, this section also covers the conversations in the game. The original Nice-Neutral-Jerk options are back, as are the charm and intimidate skills (now replaced simply with your paragon or renegade score). As an additional treat (for those of us who remember those pre-release movies of Mass Effect 1) the ability to interrupt people in the middle of conversations, in addition to maybe doing something important (killing a merc when he turns his back and pushing someone out of the path of a bullet come to mind.)
Of all the characters from the original game, only Tali and Garrus can join your party, along with one of every other important race mentioned thus far. The characters are far better developed than in the first one, and don't come off as one-sided and monochromatic.
The story of Mass Effect 2 (with minimal spoilers) is roughly this: Shepard is killed in battle with unknown foes, then ressurected (in a very expensive manner) by a radical pro-human terrorist group, Cerberus. From the onset you are given two Cerberus members as your initial party, with one being the initially-irritating women who lead 'Project Lazarus', the other being a generic black military man. Like Sergeant Johnson only without the coolness.
From there, you are sent by the leader of Cerberus, the 'Illusive Man' (mispelled for unexplained reasons) to investigate the disappearance of human colonies.
After a mission too riddled with spoilers to describe, you are given command of a far larger version of the old Normandy, complete with personal secretary, fishtank, and significantly-faster elevators than the original. You are then given the locations of a number of people who can join your team, each one designated a codename until you find them. After finding the first four people (Garrus, Salarian Mad Scientist, Krogan, and Criminal Biotic) you are sent on another spoiler-filled adventure. After that you are given the locations of your final three squad mates (Tali, an Assassin, and an Asari biotic) and the location of something critical to your final mission.
This is where ME2 truly shines. The key to surviving the final mission (and yes, your whole party CAN get slaughtered if you don't do it right, and I don't yet know anyone who has gotten past without losing at least one team member) revolves around collection resources for upgrades and loyalty missions.
In essence, Loyalty Missions are just sidequests. But they are critical because they unlock the previously-unusable ability in your teammates, in addition to greatly increasing their chances of surviving the final mission. Compared the side missions of the first game, the sidequests in Mass Effect 2 provide real benefits and have some creative settings and concepts beyond "kill enemy W in bunker X on planet Y for reward Z".
Like in the first game, you can also have romances in Mass Effect 2. However, rather than simply picking between sleeping with the horny Asari or the annoying human, you can pretty much get with anyone of the opposite gender in your crew. Instead than just having a few random conversations then sleeping with the person, in all cases much more emotion is injected into the game, and many of the romances are far deeper than a simple hook-up.
But I digress. You then jump into the final mission, get an epic conclusion, and hopefully didn't die.
The real test, of course, is that all the important decisions from both the first game and this one will affect the final conclusion of the last game. It will be extemely interesting to see how it all plays out.
Graphics & Sound: 9/10
Pretty much standard for this generation (ergo, it looks and sounds amazing). A lot of work is put into the art style of the universe, and that's pretty much all I can say about it. It's good enough that no real description is possible. The main improvements have gone into facial experessions (no more pedophile-smile Shepard) and even the most mundane objects have extremely detailed textures.
You can pretty much play this game forever, given all the class options and the menagerie of storyline choices. Because you can still fly about exploring after the final mission, I'm sure there's enough content to keep all of us going until Mass Effect 3's release date next January.
Total (not an average): 8/10
The storyline, replayability, and appearance all make up for the mediocre gameplay. Regetably, the gameplay drags the overall score, though it still is a strong start to this gaming year.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 02/09/10
Game Release: Mass Effect 2 (US, 01/26/10)
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