Mass Effect 2

Review

posted 1/26/2010 by Tina Amini
other articles by Tina Amini
Mass Effect 2 is like the second child of the BioWare family. Two years ago they released the first Mass Effect  and everyone was fairly impressed by it. BioWare was experimenting with this shooter-RPG hybrid, and incorporating it with the sci-fi and deep story that they are known. Given that it was their first iteration of the Mass Effect franchise, there were bound to be a few missing points on behalf of the inexperienced parents. That’s where a sequel comes into play as Bioware had time to analyze the missteps with the first game and improve upon them for the sequel. 

In Mass Effect 2, BioWare has given birth to a game with the core concepts of the first Mass Effect and refined them into pure gaming bliss. 

Commander Shepard will come back from the dead to kill you. Chuck Norris can’t even say that
Once again you play the role of Commander Shepard.  As being in the center of trouble seems to be your forte, you were bound to run into a wall at some point. After your ship gets attacked, you run your crew off into escape pods but sadly don’t make it out alive yourself. Thus, BioWare’s easy explanation as to why you remember nothing from the first game (should you be new to the Mass Effect franchise) emerges.


Fortunately, however, your reputation for success under more than risky situations has earned you a ticket back from the dead. Cerberus, a pro-human organization not necessarily known for being charming or having an amiable leader, takes an interest in you. The Illusive Man, the not-so amiable leader, creates the Lazarus project to have you brought back under the very specific instructions of retaining your personality and character. After two years, you’re abruptly awoken by yet another attack on a ship you’re on. Fighting your way through, you finally meet your maker so to speak, and he informs you of Cerberus’ investigation of the abduction of entire human colonies at the hands of an alien race known as the Collectors.

Before you can dive head first into taking the alien race on, you’ll have to build a formidable team. Your recruitments will take you across the galaxy to find the best and the toughest fighters to accompany you on what is thought to be a suicide mission. Things aren’t so simple, though, (are they ever really?) and your travels will take you on other investigations.

The gameplay itself is composed of three parts: the actual missions and gunfights, the side quests, and the wandering about the ship building relationships with your squad members. You split gameplay between missions and time on your ship. Being on your ship is where you get organized and interact with your shipmates. You can customize Shepard from one of 6 classes, either specializing in weaponry, biotics, or a combination of the two. You won’t see drastic changes to the classes available to you in Mass Effect 2, but there are a few additional biotic abilities that cause great havoc (I’ll be excited to see what they brew up for the already announced Mass Effect 3)


You look familiar…have you gotten some work done?
The very first thing I noticed when the opening cut scene began was how much better the cinematic direction is. Angle changes, a variety of zoom levels, and more action surrounding the content make the cinematography a lot more impressive than Mass Effect 1 cut scenes were. You’ll be flying in ships, walking and traversing areas, pacing about, and even slapping some faces during the interactive portions. Mass Effect 1 also had interactive cut scenes, but only in the form of dialogue. ME2 allows for selection of dialogue, but also the option to partake in Paragon or Renegade actions. These actions will build your reputation and skill in negotiation in either a reasonable manner or a violent manner. You can also skip through dialogue instead of being forced to listen through every line. Gone are the days you have to sit through the same dialogue sequence because you can’t beat a boss, and you better believe I’m happy to see that gone.

Good cinematic direction is complimented by enhanced graphics, and you can tell from characters’ facial features. I wouldn’t say it’s the best I’ve ever seen, but the meticulously concentrated on facial hairs and shining tears on people’s faces are clearly an improvement from ME1’s somewhat dull effects. Mass Effect 2 looks cooler, making for a more immersive experience. BioWare has even included details like retaining armory design in cut scenes.

If we’re talking about the looks of ME2, the user interface is also improved. It’s sleeker and more straightforward. Customizing characters in the RPG aspect of the game brings up a less convoluted screen, keeping the action and pace of the game intact. If you like customizing and building your own character but don’t necessarily enjoy the sometimes-laborious nature of RPGs, ME2 makes it simple for you. You have four basic qualities with two specializations to customize each ability for each character. You can spec your abilities after fully upgrading them towards either the option of increasing health or increasing damage. This change from the first game is appropriate because it keeps the shooter action fast paced while still giving gamers the opportunity for customization known in RPGs.

Even though BioWare has taken steps to simplify gameplay, ME2 gives you so much more direction and information than its predecessor from the HUD to the helpful loading screen messages to guidance while on missions. Your HUD is constantly updated with information from your codex, journal, items, etc, including a brief synopsis of what they entail. There are summaries upon completion of missions, with specific details including the immediate consequences of your actions as well as theoretical future consequences. You even get alerts of your progression toward leveling equipment as you pick up upgrades and the like.


My only complaint with the HUD is the inaccessibility of radar. You can only call upon your radar by clicking on the right or left stick, or bringing up one of your spin wheels (weapons or biotics). My radar is something I’m constantly checking, so I’m not sure why the decision was made to clear the screen of this information, especially when this upgraded radar is so useful with its reliable objective arrow. Clutter control is one thing, but keeping an eye out for enemies seems like one of the more important pieces of clutter that I don’t mind having around.

Accessing your galaxy map is also a lot more informative than it was in ME1. It’s easy to get lost in the galaxy map of ME1, whereas ME2 has indicators showing how much of each universe you’ve explored and where your next missions are located. That addition was much appreciated, as it made travel easier and quicker.

The new galaxy map also allows you to scan new planets to collect resources or find anomalies. Composites from planets are used for research material to upgrade your equipment, weapon, ship, and developing prototypes. It can, however, get pretty time consuming. Nonetheless, the benefits make it hard to skip out on them. Scanning planets will find you anomalies that set you on further side quests for more game time. As time consuming as it was, I was still addicted to exploring the many planets across the clusters, and it was exciting to find a hidden mission to accomplish.


City maps are also much more clear this time around. Pinpoint locations are laid out and labeled, and your current location icon shows where you are facing as opposed to the blob of a dot from ME1. Mass Effect 1 was like walking around with a paper map you’d just bought from a gas station. Now I’m rolling with my high-powered GPS system.

Navigating your ship in ME1 took some time to get used to everything and everyone’s placement. To help with this, the Normandy is equipped with the AI named EDI – and it was a smart decision to incorporate her. She keeps your missions on track, and brings extensive information that would otherwise be hard to explain their origins. The four levels of your ship are mapped out with information of where you can locate specific people or areas of interest.

I would totally be friends with you in real life
ME2 news releases have kept us up-to-date on the glamor of the cast of voice actors they had lined up. Acting can be just as detrimental to a video game as a film, and BioWare made sure to have all their ends tied. I’m glad they did, because the actors did a spot on job with representing their characters via the voice acting. If you want good acting, voice or not, hire a real actor.

The characters are more interesting and rife with personality, which is in no small part due to the voice acting.  Part of developing your understanding of, and relationships with the characters comes from their respective missions that help establish loyalty. There is a lot more tension between characters in ME2 than I remember there being in ME1.

Deciding between two possible love relationships, I realized how significant the characters were and that your selection is just as dependent on a personal bond as in real life encounters. The personalities that BioWare created are versatile enough to intrigue anyone’s interests.


Part of developing your understanding of, and relationships with the characters comes from their respective missions that help establishloyalty. Subject Zero needs to settle her past, while Grunt needs to find his meaning for existence, and each of them need your help to do so. Choosing not to help them puts you at the risk of relying on teammates that don’t necessarily trust or care for you. That’s why it is prudent to go on these missions with them before tackling the Collectors head on. If I were actually riding a spaceship around the galaxy saving life as we knew it, I imagine it would be something more akin to Mass Effect 2’s storyline than Mass Effect 1. I can’t expect to recruit such strange and dangerous fighters into my crew without needing to gain their trust first. BioWare did a much better job in creating an immersive and solid story with the sequel as opposed to another monotonous “save the world” ploy.

The storyline doesn’t just start anew, however. It picks up from where you left from the first game, and incorporates your actions and their consequences within the story at hand. When you re-encounter old friends from Mass Effect 1, you’ll notice that they’re all in fairly high standing positions regardless of what endeavors they’re involved in. This makes me believe what BioWare wants me to believe: that my crew was capable of pulling out fast moves in tense situations. I’m not just told that so-and-so is a badass; I’m shown that they are. From my re-encounters to my new encounters, each character is involved in their own crazy lifestyle that I get a generous preview of. It’s these small considerations that make Mass Effect 2’s storyline that much more convincing.


You’re telling me I did what now?
BioDocs said that you don’t have to play the first game to enjoy the second. That’s certainly true, but the connections you can make based on storyline and your actions in the first game are so frequent that I’d suggest playing ME1 first. Mass Effect 2 is all but getting on its knees and begging you to play the first one anyway. With the ability to incorporate your saved game from Mass Effect 1, why wouldn’t you want to take advantage of the opportunity? I can’t tell you how gratifying it is to know that my experiences and actions in ME1 are not only recognized, but they’re also appreciated. If you haven’t played ME1, you won’t feel the connection I did to understanding references or coming upon old friends.

It’s good to see you again, especially without your annoying friends around
There are so many improvements to the Mass Effect franchise that I feel need to be recognized. Although I understand where the acclaim for ME1 came from, I had a lot of issues with the game and it was by no means even near perfect. It’s good to see that BioWare made the necessary changes.

For one thing, combat is faster paced with quicker and more responsive AI. They’re actually quite useful now, and even proactive in dealing with enemies. They use appropriate abilities and take cover much more effectively. They also don’t get stuck behind closing doors, so that’s always great. Although they still sometimes like to run out of cover and stand in wide-open areas, they’re generally quick to adapt. A few shots in the face will get anyone ducking.

Enemies also respond more realistically, patting themselves down when set on fire, or desperately trying to crawl to safety after you’ve crippled them. The effects look just as awesome in-game as they did in the trailers.


Although any gamer can get a handle on pretty much any control scheme a developer thinks up, it is nice that ME2’s button configuration is an intuitive one. You can now map buttons for actions, you have an actual melee button all to itself, and you can jump – over barriers that is.

You don’t want a game to be short, but you want it to be quick. You don’t want to be in the middle of battle fretting over your controls or wasting time in elevators. I’m sure anyone who has played the original Mass Effect will attest to the fact that loading times were abysmal, and elevators were the enemy. This next iteration provides hefty game time, but it’s fast in terms of combat, travel, and cut scenes (should you wish to make them quicker).

Auto-saving was a huge issue to me. Looking back at my saved game from ME1, I noticed it was over 100 saves. ME2? I have only 25 saves that I recorded personally. ME2’s auto-saving is so much more reliable. I have less “I should have saved” moments in this game than I did with the first.

Medi-gel also seemed few and far between in ME1. Medi-gel is a lot more frequent and useful. They can bring teammates back to life, while health itself will regenerate along with your shields via your suit so long as you take cover.


Do you remember those boring hacking mini-games? Well, BioWare decided to spice up the action. There are two different mini-games that are alternated for bypassing and hacking. It’s no longer the redundant “hit the corresponding button” game. You either have to match nodes of similar icons, or sort through lines of code to find the correct sequence. It can be a bit straining on the eyes, but it’s definitely more fun in its puzzle concept.

While ME1 was not without its assortment of weaponry, ME2’s collection is a lot more powerful and fun. Plus, it’s customizable to a much less convoluted manner. You upgrade your weaponry through purchases or research done on your ship by the Professor. There are definitely a lot of new shiny things to play with. On top of that, they’ve nixed the ugly inventory system from ME1 days and replaced it with a load out weaponry stock that you can access from the start of a mission, or as you come across weapon lockers.

The music and sound effects have even been improved, particularly in the clubs. They are now definitely more akin to a gentleman’s club setting than the game’s predecessor. (Not that I’d really know from personal experience or anything.) There are, however, a few awkward sound effects like what seems to be cats crying in the Citadel. What’s that about?

Through all the trailers and information that BioWare released after the announcement of the sequel, they really came to convince me that they were going to keep the badass of the game and leave the bad out of the game. If you want to know whether or not their promises hold water, I can assure you as probably one of their bigger critics of the original Mass Effect that it certainly does.


I could’ve done without that, thanks
No video game is perfect. There can always be improvements, simply because of the fact that who knows what we’ll be playing in the future or how we’ll be playing it. ME2 is not excluded from this fact. My biggest issue with ME2, which is considerably small, is that I wish I could complete multiple missions on one planet without having to revisit the Normandy after every acquisition. This applies more so to attaining your new crew members, which obviously need debriefing and the like, but the load times are already considerable let alone having to re-coordinate and fly back from orbit. At times, you’re given the option of staying on the planet or heading back to the Normandy, but it was more often than not that I was forced to leave and go through the process of loading yet again.

The end better justify the means
The perfect and epic boss battle is sometimes hard for a developer to create. Every level counts, but the boss battle is the most important. Everything comes down to how creative and how challenging (not just difficult) you can make the end of the game. It is, after all, often what a gamer will come away from the game remembering most, and what the gamer expects to be the most interesting battle. Without getting into spoilers, ME2’s boss battle is certainly interesting. In fact, it’s more like a boss mission. Whereas most missions are fairly straightforward – take cover, kill enemies of various abilities and strength, maybe activate or blow something up – the final mission adds different goals and obstacles that you haven’t encountered. I came away feeling a lot more satisfied and accomplished than I had after defeating Saren and the horde of enemies that led to him in ME1. Although, with the right weapon (ahem, Particle Beam, ahem) you can pretty much take anything down.


You’re so much cooler than your older brother

Mass Effect definitely benefitted from becoming a franchise. BioWare needed to make a second Mass Effect baby now that they’ve had time to raise the first and to learn from the mistakes. Just watch: when Mass Effect 3 comes out, Mass Effect 2 will be the middle child no one cares about while the new born gets all the attention.




A+
If you liked Mass Effect 1 to any degree whatsoever, you’ll definitely love Mass Effect 2 with its improved combat and AI, and cinematics and storyline – sans the glitches we all know and hate from ME1.