Review by Dan_Lionheart
An instant classic that can't be missed. Mass Effect 2 is near perfection.
There comes a rare time every once in a while where a video game hits the market, and it transcends the industry. Be it a huge impact, an unforgettable memory, or an intense experience like nothing before, for one reason or another, there is always something noticeably more special than everything else. This does not happen very often, but on the day Mass Effect 2 released, it did.
Mass Effect 2 expands on the original formula of creating your character, gathering a squad, and having the universe at your hands. Literally everything that unfolds after is your choice, it is on your shoulders, and there are consequences. Normally games like KOTOR or Jade Empire (which utilize this choice of response system) are very clearly defined between good and bad. There is no shade of grey, there is just right and wrong. The beauty in Mass Effect is that there really is no right or wrong choice, it is simply the player's choice. This feature, making it feel as though it was an interactive movie playing out rather than a game, makes for one of the most unique and deep role playing experiences gaming has to offer.
The original Mass Effect was considered an awesome game, though it had it's share of problems holding it back. Texture pop-ups, loading times, bland side quests, and rather mediocre gameplay all kept it from being what it truly could have achieved. It was not a bad game by any means, but it was clear that more work was needed. What BioWare has done since the period of Mass Effect 1's release and Mass Effect 2, is fix, or rather, completely get rid of all previous problems.
The texture pop-ups? There are none. In my 40 plus hours of playing, there has not been a single issue with the graphics appearing properly. Loading times? Long elevators? How about five second load screens and no elevators at all? The side quests have been elevated to the scale where they are cinematic and made just as important as the story in presentation. There is no Mako to explore worlds, making these simplifications give the game a much more fluid and polished feel.
The best improvement by far, is the gameplay. No longer being a bland, non-challenging system where you have cover but never use it, Mass Effect 2 relies on cover the way Gears of War does. You can rarely run out in the open and try to play this like the first game without proper armor, defensive powers, and precaution. No longer can you pile up every overpowered power in your arsenal on enemies to dispose of them in seconds. They have made it balanced and smooth. The guns all feel different, the classes all feel VERY different, and the restrictions to which class can use which guns/powers is very well done. You could barely tell the difference between classes in the original, but in the sequel, you would have to be blind not to.
One thing that was awkward about such a dialogue, story-telling game in the first Mass Effect was the character expressions. The voice acting was superb (and is even better now), but the feel of immersion and belief was sometimes lost with the faces of character models being utterly inexpressive. Someone would raise their voice and their face would look like they just ate a rotten apple, it made no sense. Luckily this was all greatly remedied in the second game and there is no loss of feeling in these scenes. The camera was even made more cinematic in comparison to the static camera in the first game, which gives it a better feel.
Furthermore, the character development itself has improved greatly. BioWare did a good job with the cast of the first game, but in the second, not only is the main squad more endearing, but even the NPCs come off very entertaining and interesting. I found myself applauding the backstory of each character, and I even enjoyed the logical development of characters from the first game greatly.
Speaking of developing from the first game. Mass Effect 2 is really something else. Players can import a completed save game from the original (which means you HAVE to play both otherwise your gamer pass is revoked) and all their choices from the original carry into the second game. This is no exaggeration. EVERYTHING, every little thing you may have wondered the consequence or benefit of carries through. Playing Mass Effect 2 without importing a character or without having played the first one just isn't the same experience.
There are a few little nitpicks I would have liked to see turn out different. I really enjoyed customizing your guns and the ammo in the original, as well as the armor of your squad. Mass Effect 2 lightened the load on this in favor of the simplifying form which did work in many ways. I am not saying we need lots of meaningless loot which was present in the first, but a little more customization would be nice. I also would've liked to see a cover move for getting from one nearby cover to another, but that's a very minor problem. Insanity is a bit unreasonable, but again, these are nitpicking flaws and not actual problems.
It's the little things, the realism of the universe itself that BioWare has put together which makes Mass Effect 2 a nearly perfect game and easily one of the best games ever made. The gameplay, graphics, story, atmosphere, soundtrack, voice acting, everything about this game is absolutely amazing. Missing out on this is essentially missing out on a great part of gaming history.
Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Product Release: Mass Effect 2 (US, 01/26/10)
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