Review by GloryBound87

"A Worthy Sequel"

Mass Effect was a spectacular game and truly a showcase of what video games could do when put in the right hands. With a rich universe, deep characters, and a story that pulled players in, it was second to none. Mass Effect 2 is, as the title says, a worthy sequel. Though there were significant changes in terms of gameplay and story dynamic between the two, the overall feeling of awe present in ME1 is alive and well in ME2.

The most notable changes between ME1 and ME2 are the changes in gameplay. First and foremost, the combat system has had a major overhaul. Almost immediately noticeable is the existence of an ammo system, which was not present in the first game. Though I would have chosen to retain the overheating function from the first game, it works well within the game, is worked into the lore, and I never once found myself out of ammo. That said, the pacing is much more energetic than the first, and cover plays a much more important role. While you no longer have to worry about healing yourself, as your health and shields regenerate on their own, if you're out of cover too long in even a mild firefight, you'll die quickly, even on lower difficulties. Squad AI and commands have also been streamlined and upgraded. Now instead of shooting aimlessly at walls as was sometimes the case in ME1, your squadmates can do quite a bit of the heavy-lifting for you. Though your teammates may falter at times by taking cover against an object that leaves them open to fire, the flaws are miniscule and far between.

The inventory system is much different; there isn't one. Instead of collecting an incalculable number of upgrades and weapons, weapons are instead upgradeable. All the classic weapon types are still there, as well as some new ones that are a blast to play with. Heavy weapons were an excellent addition to an already brimming arsenal, and there are plenty of flavors to suit your particular fancy. While for die-hard fans of the inventory system - and making boatloads of money - like myself this may be an issue, playing through the game without worrying about offloading 90% of your gear each time you get to a vendor is a positive thing.

Side missions have undergone a major renovation as well. Instead of the same prefab buildings and scenarios, each side mission is a world unto itself. Every location has been constructed specifically for its purpose, and the variety of locales for even mundane side quests is outstanding.

Another major difference are the minigames. Hacking and bypassing now have their own minigames that are actually fun and engaging, as opposed to following the button presses on the screen. I personally enjoyed playing through them, and they added flavor to the game; they made me feel like I was actually -doing- something, not just pushing controller buttons.

The skill tree in ME2 has also undergone some major renovations. Points have been reduced significantly, as have power variety, but in sacrificing quantity, Bioware has gone for quality. Each of the powers available to the classes in the game are fun to use and even more fun to chain between you and your squad mates. It also reduces clutter on the power wheel. This may not seem like a huge issue to some people, but I dislike have to bring it up and scroll through 10 different abilities with an oversensitive joystick.

The only negative change in gameplay from ME1 to ME2 is the removal of the Mako. Though as explained through the story of the game, the Mako has been removed for a reason, I would still like to have seen it implemented. There are many who couldn't stand it in the first game and are glad to see it's gone. For me, I can't think of anything more badassed than a rover with six wheels, independent suspension, a chaingun AND a cannon, that can climb up almost vertical hills and glide through the air. I dare you to name one. In exchange, though, there's a planet scanning minigame, which, though tedious at first, can be just as fun and time-consuming as exploring in the Mako. Well, not quite as fun, because you're not climbing up vertical mountain faces, but it's still pretty fun and definitely engaging.

The story for ME1 was as immersive as it was vast, spanning the whole galaxy and making it feel as though it was really you in charge. That immersion is alive and well in the story to ME2, though its scope is quite a bit narrower. Unlike ME1, the main story quest is relatively short and can be a bit linear by comparison. Though the plot reveals and twists were interesting and at one point amazing, there just weren't enough to hold it up to the story that ME1 boasted. A more expansive core story is really the only thing lacking from this segment of the game.

On the flipside of that coin, each of your recruitable teammates has a mission accompanying their recruitment which provides some insight into their impressively deep characters, and each also has a loyalty mission, which delves even deeper into these extremely well-fleshed out, interesting, and intricate companions. I felt personally connected to each of my crew, and I wanted to take time out of the game to go around and talk to everyone. The voice-acting and dialogue is superb and adds flavor to the game.

-Sounds and Graphics-
ME2 is a beautiful, vibrant game. The visual quality of all the worlds and locales you can visit is superb; great care was taken to making every detail stand out and pull you into the ME universe. The sounds are equally as engaging. Just about every visitable locale in the game also has flavor conversations in the background that are actually interesting to listen to, and the soundtrack for the game is outstanding. ME2 takes the greatness that was the graphic and sound design of ME1 to a whole other level.

-Play Time/Replayability-
Here is where ME2 once again suffers a little. As a consequence of having a shorter, more linear core story than its predecessor, ME2 loses a bit of its replay value. The first play through of the game can easily take up 40 hours if you involve yourself heavily in side quests, loyalty quests, and planet scanning, so there is plenty to play through and keep you engaged. However, without that expansive universe that ME1 boasted, the replay value just isn't quite the same. It's absolutely worth a second play through, and even a third to change things up a bit, but I couldn't see myself playing through a fourth or a fifth time (as compared to my six playthroughs of ME1).

Mass Effect 2 is every bit the sequel I was hoping for and is well worth the money spent to preorder and the time spent waiting in line. The game is superb, polished, and only adds to the imaginative, amazing universe that is Mass Effect. Though the main story is a little lacking for breadth, the game more than compensates for that shortcoming by offering great content, engaging characters, and impressive design. It is truly a sequel worthy of the Mass Effect name.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 02/26/10

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

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