Review by zinho73

Reviewed: 02/04/10

An incredible experience - but not necessarily a great game.

Mass Effect 2 is a pretty hard game to review because, simply put, it is not a very good game, but, on the other hand, it is one hell of an interactive experience – possibly the best ever produced.

But, what went wrong?

1. Upgrades and customization: by far the worst offender on the gameplay department (especially if you are marketing your product as an RPG), Mass Effect 2 presents very few options to evolve your character and your teammates.

I can live with the streamlined skill tree, as it kind of gives a “role” to each character, since you really don’t have many options to evolve there. But the weapons and armor upgrades are simply disappointing, especially in a game produced by Bioware, that have been consistently offering great customization options in all their games (including Mass Effect 1).

Most upgrades are researchable items that cost minerals (more on that later), but they offer little variety. By the end all you are going to have is a bunch of armor options that have very little effect on gameplay and even less weapon combinations. It is never very clear the difference between the old and the new weapon you’ve just researched, but it is implied that the next one would be always better. The weapons locker feature, in which you can change weapons during or before the missions, is simply useless. Once I got a new version of a weapon, I’ve never felt the necessity to change my weapons for any reason. The exceptions to the rule are the new heavy weapons – they are reasonably different from each other to justify some tinkering with the system.

2. The central plot: it really doesn’t go nowhere. Basically, you are doing the same thing you’ve done on the first game, on the same terms. You are fighting a reaper and the collectors (in the first it was a reaper and the geth) with no help at all from the Alliance, because they do not believe you (again!).

The focus on the game is on recruiting your crew for a suicide mission and it shows: there are only four mission in the game that advances the plot, so there is not even room to do something original or interesting.

3. The decisions: lauded by the marketing guys as one of the biggest selling points of the game, they are also very disappointing. If you play the campaign as a Paragon or as a Renegade, the whole thing evolves more or less on the same way, with a few different dialog options. Also the decision you made on the first game you grant you, on the best scenario, a short scene with an even shorter dialogue option and, most of the time, will be referenced just on an in game e-mail.

Your love affair from the first game will barely recognize you and overall the gameplay impact is very close to zero. I can cite a very large number of RPGs in which your decisions have a greater impact on the game (most of them from Bioware!): Knights of the Old Republic, Fallout, Dragon Age and even the heavily scripted Final Fantasy series offered more variety on that department – on those games, the right dialogue option can often lead to a secret area or bring a hidden character to your party. This will not happen on Mass Effect 2. Your decisions affect some dialogues but never the game itself. Here is hope for the third installment.

4. The side missions: there are simply not enough of them. They are not so random this time, but some of them are not really memorable either. The galaxy felt a lot more emptier on this installation.

5. Your team: your interaction with your crew members is simply fantastic, but they do not interact well with each other and with the environment. I actually missed the elevator conversations between the team members from the first game. Dragon Age also has an excellent feature to address this: the characters talk with each other and you will be willing to change the party just to hear all the dialogue options.

In ME 2, team members also say pretty much the same thing when participating on the plot dialogues and will offer little input when beside you. The Justicar character warned me that if I made something against her code, she would be obligated to kill me after the mission. I was as bad as I wanted with her by my side and never heard any complaints or threats. Maybe she was just taking silent notes for the third game, but I doubt it.

The lack of feedback on your team on the final mission is also weird, as some people don’t even know if their characters have survived or not. In my opinion the death of a crew member should have been something more memorable.

Also, I found the option to continue the game after the last mission a bit underdeveloped. If you played enough of the game to do reasonably well on the last mission (and why wouldn’t you?), you will find that you don’t have neither new missions nor other dialogue options aside from a brief commentary on your performance from your crew members.

But if you consider all those flaws, how come the game was received with raving reviews everywhere? Well, something must have gone right:

1. The setting: Bioware knows how sci-fi works. It might have something to do with their experience with the Star Wars franchise, but the fact is the universe of Mass Effect is believable (some idiosyncrasies aside). The aliens are great, the vistas are varied and interesting and the overall art direction is just great. It also helps that the setting was not explored to death as the fantasy theme. One of the greatest flaws of Dragon Age, in my opinion is that it is too generic. Mass Effect feels more original, even if it is crammed with cliches.

2. The graphics: Although they were substantially improved for chapter number 2, I think they were more impressive the first time, simply because other games have now raised the bar since then. But they are still interesting enough and sometimes very vivid. Clever use of lighting also allows for some great moments.

3. The dialogue: Yeah, your decisions only affect the dialogue… But the dialogue is fantastic. There is a lot of good writing on this game, and if the overall plot disappoints, the subplots will offer great opportunities for the excellent voice acting shine. It is possibly the best voice acting ever on a game (or very close to it). It doesn’t hurt that the music and sound effects are also top notch.

4. The combat system: The strategic options were butchered, but the tactical approach got better. Biotics and Tech powers are more useful and the shooting are more satisfactory. There are better options on the action front, but ME 2 iteration of combat is quite good. There is a strange case of involution in way ammo is handled (they were basically infinite in the first game and now you need cartridges), but I thought it was more fun this time around.

5. Sex: If you browse the forums about the game, you will see that Shepard’s dating options will be a popular subject and almost always the first one to come up. The dating options are a very important part of the drive to play the game, weather people are willing to admit it or not. I also thought this aspect was somewhat downplayed by Bioware, as I found that the scene with Liara (and the whole developing of that relationship) on the first game was bolder than anything you have on ME2. But now you have more variety, with more romance, conflict, comedy and boobs spread on the various dating options.

6. The package: ME2 is more than the sum of its parts. The high production values just conspire to make you care for the characters, the episodic content also points towards something that can be simply great on the third installment and the fact that the game is very easy will guarantee that a lot of people will play it without frustration (as great as Dragon Age is, I’m stuck on the same part for a month now, because my party wasn’t optimally configured for the situation).

Not quite an action game, a very light RPG, ME2 plays a lot like an interactive “choose your own adventure” comic book that you just can’t stop reading because of the funny lines, the outstanding production values and, quite possibly, Miranda’s boobs (or the male equivalent).

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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

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