Review by horror_spooky

"The Reapers Strike Back"

The original Mass Effect is one of the most ambitious RPGs of our time. BioWare had the goal of creating an epic adventure that would blow gamers away, and despite the game's flaws, they succeeded. However, Mass Effect was only the beginning; BioWare had planned a trilogy for this new franchise, and were geared up and ready to deliver big time with Mass Effect 2, the epic sequel to one of the Xbox 360's greatest console-exclusive titles.

Like most sequels, Mass Effect 2 retains a lot of the gameplay mechanics and elements that were introduced in the first title. However, ME2 definitely kicks things up to the next level, fixing a lot of issues that the first game presented, and providing a title of more quality overall, and that is superior in basically every way imaginable.

When you boot up the game for the first time, you will have the choice to either create a brand new Shepherd (the primary protagonist of the series) or import a Shepherd from the first Mass Effect game. By importing a character, you are rewarded with various bonuses that, while they don't necessarily make the game that much easier, they do make the game a bit more accessible in the beginning when it comes to browsing shops and purchasing fuel for your ship.

While traveling to different star clusters in the original game only required clicks and such, the sequel handles traveling on the overworld map in a very different manner. You now physically manuever the Normandy around the star clusters, and visiting other systems that don't have Mass Relays in them eats up fuel that you will have to purchase at a fuel depot.

Scanning planets also takes a different approach. In the first game, all you had to do was press a button to scan the entire planet, and then you could land on some of the planets to complete secret missions and collect supplies. This time around, the planets have to be scanned manually. You move a cursor over the planet and a chart on the right of the screen lets you know if there are any resources under your cursor. You can then launch a probe to collect the resources there. If you're looking for secret missions, though, and think that scanning the entire planet is asking a bit too much, don't worry; the game will inform you if there is an anomaly present to indicate a secret mission, and it will lead your scanner in the right direction. While this sounds rather tedious and time-consuming on paper, there is something strangely addicting about visiting the different star clusters and scanning the planets.

You need the natural resources from these planets for upgrades. This system is far superior to the one that was used in the first game, which relied on a clunky menu system for you to add upgrades to specific weapons and armor, which was generally quite the messy process. All you need to do is visit a terminal located in the tech lab of the Normandy and start upgrading. You can upgrade the damage you deal with pistols, the damage you deal with shotguns, your resistance against biotic attacks, you can upgrade the Normandy, and even create new weapons by using the upgrade station.

The menu system has been refined all around. It has all been simplified, and trust me, this is a positive thing. No longer do you have to mess around with the ridiculous amount of weaponry and armor that the first game threw on you; now you can just customize the appearance of your armor in your quarters and you can choose from a reasonable amount of firearms before every mission. As for the weapons, there is a new weapon type called "heavy weapons" that deal ludicrous damage, although the ammo for these weapons is scarce.

Other tweaks have been made to the formula as well. In the first game, your ammo recharged and you had to heal yourself using medi-gel. Now your weapons utilize clips like a standard shooter and your health and shields have to recharge. This helps the game move at a quicker pace, allowing more action and firefights than before, and less hiding behind cover waiting for your guns to cool down.

The map in the original was a pain in the ass, and navigation in general was an irritating process. Instead of trying to fix the map, BioWare decided to basically get rid of it all together. Now you can just point in a direction, and if there is something of interest, it will pop up on the top of the screen. This makes finding missions quite easier; and if you get lost while trying to complete a mission, just holding down on the right stick will point you in the right direction! Once again, they simplified the system, and the results to the overall gameplay experience are quite stellar.

Another navigation issue that was prevalent in the first game was your inability to look at your missions and assignments while in the galaxy map. This meant that you had to memorize exactly what system and what planet you were going to travel to before accessing the map, and it just became an unnecessary hassle. This time around, if you have an assignment or mission, it will show you exactly how to get there in your galaxy map. Obviously, this is extremely convenient.

Not all the changes to the Mass Effect formula were for the better. For example, the leveling system just doesn't seem to be quite as addictive as it was in the original. Each ability that you level up has four levels that you level up, with each level requiring another skill point. The cool thing about it though is that once you fully level up an ability, you can evolve it to be even stronger. You can make its damage spike way up, or you can make its field of attack wider in most cases, with exceptions like being able to give your entire squad the incendiary ammo bonus.

Mass Effect 2 is unique in the sense that the storyline can be quite different for different players. Depending on if you import your character from the original game, there are big differences in terms of characters that appear and assigments available to you. Your choices in this game drastically alter the course of not only this title, but the next game in the Mass Effect series as well, and it can change the lives of all the characters you interact with. If you don't want spoilers for the first Mass Effect game, I suggest skipping the rest of this paragraph. With the Normandy destroyed and Shephard dying in the opening moments of the game, things don't go well for the crew, obviously, after the events of the first game. Two years pass, and Shephard is rebuilt by your old mercenary enemies, Cerberus, with the intentions of utilizing Shephard's skills for a suicide mission. It's up to Commander Shephard to create the ultimate team of galactic badasses to battle not only the universe-threatening Reapers but also the Collectors; an alien race that is devastating human colonies. There are twists, turns, and of course, the character interaction is amazing, and really, really deep. All the characters are fleshed out and have their own stories to tell, it's great that BioWare takes the time to tell these stories. Mass Effect 2 is the video game equivalent of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. There, I said it.

One thing that stood out about the first game was its amazing visuals. Mass Effect 2 provides an equally stunning experience, but this time it all feels a lot more cinematic. The character models are amazing, the designs are astounding, and the environments are absolutely top-notch. The amount of depth and character and attention to detail is truly amazing. Each level feels drastically different than the one before. Load times have been reduced, and all those elevator rides are absent. Technical issues still exist, like the occasional glitch, a bit of lag here and there, and texture problems, but despite all this, the game is still gorgeous and more technically sound than its predecessor.

Another thing that Mass Effect 2 brings over from the first game is the perfect voice acting and brilliantly written dialogue. The orchestrated score will make you feel. The background music in general is great. The only flaw is that sometimes the action can drown out the talks between characters, which can get a little annoying, but overall, the audio quality is damn near flawless. Seriously, I challenge anyone to find another flaw with the sound besides the one I just mentioned. You'll be looking for a long time, because no other flaws exist.

I put in 25 hours of Mass Effect 2 until I saw the credits roll. However, if you are at all familiar with the first game, you should know that the credits rolling definitely doesn't mean its the end of your adventure. The Mass Effect games use a new game + option so you can go back through with your same level and adjust the difficulty if you'd like more of a challenge. There's a ton of different endings and storyline possibilities for you to discover as well. While it's possible to unlock every single achievement in one playthrough, I am willing to bet that you will still put in nearly 60 hours of gameplay before you put ME2 on the shelf for good.

If you liked Mass Effect one, then picking up the second game should be a no-brainer. It's even better than the first, fixing many of the problems that the original had, and providing a gameplay experience that really has to be seen to be believed. Mass Effect 2 is one of those few games that if GameFAQs allowed a decimal point rating system, I would be giving it 9.9/10. Regardless, the technical problems and the downplay of some RPG elements does hurt the game a tiny bit, but the rest of the package is phenomenal, and well worth your dollars.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 08/09/10

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

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