Review by Erik_P
Best game ever? It might just be
Mass Effect 2, the sequel to the beloved space faring original from 2 years ago, has finally hit shelves. I'm happy to report that Mass Effect 2 is longer, better, and even more fun than it's predecessor.
Mass Effect 2 picks up a few short months after the original, where Commander Shepard and the Normandy are ambushed in an attack. Shepard wakes up 2 years later and is forced to work with the shadowy organization known as Cerberus to stop the Reapers and Collectors from destroying human colonies.
The story mainly revolves around forming a group of a varied number of individuals, from human to turian to quarian. It's your job to recruit these individuals and gain their loyalty in order to attempt what's likely to be a suicide mission. Each character's loyalty mission is well thought out and fun to do. Each character has a well crafted and deep background and you can't help but relate to and feel bad for a few of them.
If you thought the cutscenes in the original Mass Effect were great, you're going to be wowed when you see what Bioware did this time around. Characters are much more detailed, from the scars on Shepard's face to how characters behave. It's all very subtle but it's great when you notice it.
Like the first game, you're able to choose the dialogue from a dialogue tree. Each choice is Paragon, Renegade or a neutral response that influences whether you're distinctly Paragon or Renegade. If you have enough points of either you can choose a charisma option to get out of situations. New in this game is the ability to interrupt conversations or major plot points with either Paragon Interrupt or Renegade Interrupt depending on the situation. It's fun to see what happens if you stop a major story point from happening but it can come back to bite you later.
Side quests independent of the main story are back as well, and they are just as fun, if not more so, than the main quest.
Overall, there's less story but in this case, less is definitely better.
While the first Mass Effect was distinctly an RPG that was also a shooter, Mass Effect 2 is more shooter with a little bit of RPG qualities, and it works here. The transformation is surprising at first, but once you get used to the new rules the game sets before you, it becomes second nature. You still gain experience points but only at the end of missions. You still acquire new weapons and armor but only through scanning planets for minerals (more on this later). Instead of having a bunch of useless items you find in each planet and you'll probably never use like in the first game, you have a small selection of each to choose from and it winds up being a vast improvement.
Enemies are much tougher this time around and, unlike the last time, standing around in the open will result in quick deaths. Cover plays a huge role this time, as do your biotic powers. In Mass Effect, you could make it through most of the game without relying too heavily on biotics. Because the enemies are much tougher this time, with armor and other shields, you'll be relying much more heavily on staying behind cover while you whittle their health down with biotics and firepower. Even the soldier class will be relying heavily on the use of biotics, which wasn't the case last time.
As was mentioned earlier, Mass Effect 2 has a new planet scanning minigame that has you collecting minerals. The minerals are then used to create new weapons and armor. This is the only major fault of the game. It's tedious, slow (until you get the scanner upgrade and then it's a little better), boring and just not fun. You have to drag a bullseye around a planet until you get a spike in the sensor and a rumbling of the controller and then launch a probe to collect the minerals. I hated driving around in the Mako in the first game and this isn't a very good alternative, but I hate this a little bit less.
Also, the galaxy map is changed. Instead of bringing the cursor to a planet, pressing X and then going there automatically, you manually control the Normandy to each planet, which is also rather tedious. Because you now control the Normandy manually, you have fuel reserves which become depleted once you leave known galaxies and, if you burn your fuel, you have to use up precious minerals you spent an hour to collect. I'm not too fond of this either.
The graphics, like the cutscenes, are a step up and the best this generation of gaming has ever seen. The weapons are all visible on Shepard's back and are in full detail. While customizing your armor, you can actually see all the different parts in game. Explosions have a real weight to them and you can see the heat evaporating in the air. Enemies shatter into pieces of ice and run screaming when they catch on fire depending on what ammo you use. The environments you move around in feel lived in and you can feel lost at the overall size of some of the rooms you enter, especially late in the game. They can make you emit an audible "wow" as you enter each area for the first time. Skyscrapers look massive as they stretch seemingly forever into the sky.
As you can probably tell from this glowing review, I highly recommend you buy this game. If you liked the first Mass Effect, you'll love the sequel. It's one of the very few sequels that improve in every way possible from the first. It also just so happens to quite possibly be one of the best games ever made. At 30+ hours in length you won't be disappointed.
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: Mass Effect 2 (US, 01/26/10)
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