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Review – Mass Effect 2

February 10, 2010

Available on – PC, 360.

Bioware have also done Mass Effect, Dragon Age, and Kotor, and are working on The Old Republic.

Mass Effect 2 is a strange game, in many respects the natural sequel to its predecessor but in a host of others a re-invention. The menus look the same and the world and characters that inhabit it are as expected but the RPG fat has been sliced off and the combat tweaked into a well-oiled machine. It all adds up to an elegant streamlining of the formula that may seem like a revelation to some, yet a sacrifice to the action gods by others.

A short while after the events of Mass Effect Captain Shepard and his ship are attacked by unknown assailants who, rather rudely, blast Shepard out of the sky. Out of action for two years he returns to fight a new threat under the orders of a new organization in a universe that has decided to stop leaving armour and guns lying around and that guns that can shoot infinitely without reloading are actually a bad idea.

Less Baggage

The first Mass Effect was a space age RPG bogged down by trappings commonly associated with the traditional, beards down to your knees stat cruncher so it makes sense for the RPG gubbins to be slimmed down a bit; huge inventories full of sale fodder are gone for one and a focus on leveling is the second of the main ‘casualties’ in Bioware’s more aerodynamic system.

Does this hurt the experience? Quite the opposite; improvements in combat mean each weapon you find, as rare as they are, feels unique in some way making each fun to try out whilst the various armour types look different and bring stats with them for customization headaches. Further alterations to the statistics game means you’ll be buying upgrades with materials rather than assigning minor modifiers you’ll just abandon five minutes later, however you’re never inundated with the required resources thus limiting your available upgrade choices with the game encouraging exploration to find further upgrades still.

The Mako is also gone, the hole it leaves is noticable but it was a rubbish vehicle anyway.

Leveling also takes a backseat with the game kindly reminding you before a mission to assign stat points because you’ll probably level up without even realizing it, however that’s not to say its effects have been diminished. Fully upgraded Biotic powers are absolutely riotous fun to use and their complete abandon of the usually careful structure associated with RPG combat is one of Mass Effects best features, sending five aliens ricocheting off walls and exploding a heavily armoured mech from within itself are grin inducing actions made possible thanks to the game’s faster combat, playful physics, and gorgeous visuals; it’s simply brilliant fun to play.

A Matter of Character

This probably sounds horrendously watered down to an RPG fan, and there’s no denying that there is an element of that, but by making the boring parts of an RPG more intuitive to players who don’t fantasize about Excel spreadsheets, Bioware has constructed a more interesting and immediate character piece, with less mundane number fumbling to worry about your attention can be focused on enjoying the  narratives that surround you.

While the main story isn’t as gripping as the first game, it lacks a Saren-like ‘evil doer’ figure to shake your fist at, your comrades and their ‘loyalty’ missions are some of the game’s best moments, learning about each character individually and allowing Shepard’s relationships to deepen whilst some of the missions being a welcome change of pace to the constant bang bang action of the main quest seeing you stalk a corrupt politician from the rafters or even court an evil nymphomaniac killer (admit it, now you want the game). Meanwhile the torrent of conversations is as prominent as in any Bioware game, but arguably more refined. The good Shepard/bad Shepard roles are back but the choices are more interesting while the ‘interrupts’ you can trigger in specific scenes are both entertaining and serve a wider purpose both in adding gameplay variety and in simple satisfaction.

As well as characters Bioware has worked to flesh out the world and whilst no location is as big and confusing as the Citadel of the first game the amount of places you visit gives a wider impression of the galaxy, you get a snapshot of several different lifestyles and cultures rather than a portrait of one.

Voiced by Martin Sheen, the Illusive man is a winner.

It’s a tough thing to make an RPG approachable from an action standpoint but with Mass Effect 2 Bioware has almost cracked the equation, the simplification of statistics may alienate some but the universe is so rich and crammed with content that even the most anal RPG fan will find more than enough to keep themselves occupied without needing fifty types of pistol to sort through whilst improvements in the cinematic presentation of missions, combat, and conversation mean the game pushes the bar not just in what is expected from the RPG genre, but in the action genre as well.

Mass Effect 2 may occasionally feel like filler, the story is ultimately a means to reach its conclusion whilst the more episodic feel of the missions and large array of interesting side quests serves more to deepen the character of Mass Effect’s universe than create a lengthy narrative, the combat is so satisfying and the universe so wonderful to inhabit that these are minor niggles that can’t get in the way of one of the most enjoyable games to be released in recent memory, on this planet or the next.

9

For your consideration – As with Dragon Age Bioware are hoping to support Mass Effect 2 far beyond release, and if you purchase the game new you get additional missions.

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