Review by nwowwe723

Reviewed: 03/13/12

Mass Effect 2: Back and better than Ever

As well crafted and fun to play as Mass Effect was, when making Mass Effect 2 BioWare saw the potential to improve upon things that just didn’t work as well as they could have. The end result was something that felt almost like a completely different game from the first Mass Effect, and for the most part the changes worked out for the better.

Mass Effect 2 begins shortly after the events of the first game where Commander Shepard is on a routine mission mopping up pockets of geth resistance. Much like the first game, these simple missions get a lot more complicated in a hurry as your ship is attacked by an unknown alien dreadnought. Shepard manages to save most of the crew but at the expense of his or her own life. Fortunately for our hero, Shepard is recovered by a human paramilitary group called Cerberus which spends the next two years bringing Shepard back to life to investigate the mysterious race known only as the Collectors who are targeting human colonies. Along the way Shepard must pull together an elite squad of mercenaries, scientists, and soldiers to aid him/her on the mission. As a result Mass Effect 2 ends up being a much more character driven story than the original. A large part of the game is spent recruiting the various squad members and completing missions centered around them where we learn a lot about the persons history and motivations which can really help the player develop an emotional connection with the members of the squad instead of only a character the player decides to romance.

One of the marquee features of the game is the ability to import your save file from the first game into Mass Effect 2, which brings along all the choices you’ve made up to that point. The six classes remain the same, and you are given the option of changing classes even if you import your old Shepard. The primary reason for this is because the level up system is completely overhauled in this game. The number of different talents is reduced and system of leveling them up is changed. Each talent has 3 basic levels that increase the effectiveness and power and then a 4 level where you can evolve the skill in two different ways. One of the biggest changes to the powers is the fact that they all now share the same cool-down, so gone are the days of casting four or five powers in a row and turning the room into a swirling vortex of mass effect fields. This does bring some form of balance to the game and assures that Shepard is never too overpowered. The health system as also been completely reworked into a more conventional “regenerating” system found in many First and Third Person Shooters. Medi-gel is now used to revive downed teammates (taking the place of the Unity skill), instead of restoring health. The inventory system has been done away with and now upgrades for your weapons and powers are found by finding upgrades during missions (or buying them in the hub-worlds) and then researching them with materials you find with the new planet scanning system. This takes the place of traversing planets in the Mako which is nowhere to be found in Mass Effect 2 for better or worse (though later DLC added the Hammerhead, a hovercraft vehicle, for a few unique missions).

Overall the combat gameplay is far more streamlined than in the first game and the shooting mechanics have been reworked to be a little less broken. There is now a traditional ammo system as opposed to the effectively infinite ammo system of the first game. This encourages the player to take a more tactical approach to combat situation, and there is plenty of cover (including, naturally, lots of chest high walls) along the way. Enemies now frequently feature different kinds of advanced protection (Barriers, Shields, or Armor) which are immune to different powers so you must rely on selecting the most appropriate squad members for specific missions. One of the few truly unfortunate (but mostly cosmetic) changes is the fact that without the inventory system there is no armor system for squad members and a few of them have outfits that make them look completely out of place in a combat situation but this only applies to a few of the team (and oddly, almost exclusively the human squad members).

Visually, Mass Effect 2, is even more impressive than the first game and all the character models and architecture look much more detailed. There are far fewer instances of blatantly recycled architecture and most locations and missions have a very distinct feel to them excepting, of course, any missions that take place on the same planet, but even then care is take to make sure you don’t feel like you’re walking through the same location over and over again. The voice acting and dialogue remain as good as the first game had to offer with a lot of familiar faces popping up from time to time. The music remains a scene-stealing highlight of the game with Jack Wall and Sam Hulick completely outdoing themselves with a truly spectacular score.

While some of the heavier RPG elements of the game were sacrificed (which may be unforgivable to some), the overall improvement to the gameplay experience does make up for it. Mass Effect 2 takes everything you enjoyed about playing Mass Effect and improves upon it to make a truly unforgettable gaming experience. With a deeper story, richer and fuller characters, and immersive gameplay, it’s hard not to fall under the charm of Mass Effect.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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

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