Review by neonreaper

"Big time improvement, but suffers from pacing issues and easy combat"

The first Mass Effect game really did a solid job developing a galaxy of intrigue, exploration and race relations. Sadly the mechanics didn't always make the best use of the groundwork, so you were left with a game that was easy to be invested in but often times not entirely rewarding. The sequel had a lot of obvious complaints to address but a strong groundwork had been put in place. Does Mass Effect 2 satisfy where the sequel could not?

Yes, though it has its share of disappointments. I'd like to go bit by bit and discuss each major component of the game.

Combat: improved!
The combat feels refined, sniping mechanics are FUN instead of annoying, and you no longer can just active an instant win power and crush each battle with it. There is a bit of tedium in the pacing of action in the game, often times you'll poke around a hallway or two and hit switches and hack vaults, and then turn the corner into a room full of waist-high barriers. Battles are often based on ducking and returning fire. Some skills are fun, but the game does lack the variety of abilities that the first Mass Effect had. As a vanguard, I had a new skill that let me close distances with enemies and stun them so I could really focus on the shotgun if I desired. This was suicide in big battles, but a big help when picking off the final enemies or when a single enemy was trying to flank my crew. Unfortunately, other skills weren't really as effective as simply popping off head-shots over and over. I could float enemies, spike them with team mates, and try to use clever strategies, or I got pop out of cover, bap bap bap, and find something else to shoot. The more important battles have more interesting setups and enemy types, I just wish there was a bit more effort into making typical battles a bit more interesting.

Leveling and adding skill points is kept in place, though experience is rewarded at the end of missions and you'll have to save skill points later in the game, as some of the last powerups will only be available with a handful of points which will take a handful of levels to get. Gaining a level but not being able to increase anything has a hollow feeling, they should add in a little more customization along the way.

Characters: improved!
The biggest jump overall is in the characters. Mass Effect had decent characters and poor dialog. The shallow characters like Wrex were the best, as the deeper characters really struggled with wooden personalities and shallow dialog. Establishing a relationship in ME1 was merely press A on the "yes I would like a relationship with you OK" option and that was about it. You never felt a connection to any of the characters aside from maybe Wrex. He gave a crap and he made you give a crap. The decision you make later in the game about which character you save is just a matter of which one you use more often, honestly. That sort of decision should be difficult and you should have an honest emotional response, but that wasn't the case. I could go on, but you get the idea. I wasn't happy with Mass Effect characters at all.

And Mass Effect 2 seems like someone else entirely developed the characters and dialog. Characters react appropriate to their personalities, the small touches are in place, the big touches are in place, and every character feels unique and put together pretty well. Everyone has a well defined relationship with Shepard. Romances are still a bit off... there's only one that strikes me as having any sort of true romantic quality to it. Your romances from ME1 don't really carry over so even if you were remotely attached to them for whatever reason, it's pretty much just done away with. They might find a way to bring it up (and one of those characters you need DLC for) but yeah, just best to not get attached and the game doesn't really support that happening anyway.

Story: a little bit worse
ME1 had a terrific story with a few twists and a lot of discovery. Tiny subplots developed and it was just wonderful. ME2 is a bit more straightforward once you get on your feet. There's a mission and you need a group of the best of the best in order to succeed. So, you have to recruit a ton of people, and then undertake their loyalty missions to make them loyal to you. The loyalty missions are optional but can endanger the mission and characters if you don't take the team seriously and solve everyone's problems. This causes a pacing issue where you spend a bulk of the game on same-feeling recruit/loyalty missions and maybe you don't always care about the characters. Jacob, Jack and the asari come to mind as being well defined characters that I didn't like as much as other characters, but went through 5 missions to get them and have them loyal and I didn't really care much about that part of the game.

The actual story is awesome. They handle the pacing through these missions very well, they have some cool battles, and I just wish they had more missions like this. Having a couple old friends join the crew and not be loyal to start (even worse, they had the best loyalty missions!) was a bit of a letdown. I also went on a loyalty mission for someone who immediately made me make a choice between them or someone else and my paragon skill was too low to have both. If I had done their mission a few hours later, I would have had no issues. Things like that are unpredictable and sloppy.

That all said, I enjoyed how the story developed and how it ended. Some cool moments and well designed story bits along the way! the end was a bit of a letdown as it just kinda leaves you waiting for the sequel without any real sense of closure.

Exploration: worse
Say what you want about the Mako, it was mostly functional and it was way better than launching probes. Instead of challenging themselves to refine this mechanic, they stripped it and hid it behind a "press A to launch probe" mechanic. Gaining materials was boring and annoying and a time sink in a game with plenty of things you'd rather be doing. You might fall into a trance and spend an hour probing for Element Zero and think it's OK but it's really not a good way to handle this aspect at all. Anomaly planets pretty much just ended up being quick lived mining areas that needed to be cleaned out. Not that interesting at all.

Overall: better!
Mass Effect 2 cleaned up pretty well with GOTY awards but I didn't feel it was quite there yet. You get bogged down with loyalty mission after loyalty mission and the combat isn't compelling enough to keep you excited for them, but the combat is cleaned up enough to be of an obvious higher quality than the original. This is a great game worth playing and honestly worth playing through the original for, as well.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 02/18/11

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

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