The Digest: BioWare set out to create a trilogy unlike any other in gaming with Mass Effect, and the second chapter not only puts the company one step closer to achieving that goal, but it pushes the boundaries of cinematic presentation and storytelling in video games. Mass Effect 2 continues the company’s legacy of excellence with a sequel that trumps its predecessor in nearly every aspect.
THE FACT SHEET
RELEASE DATE: January 26th, 2010
PUBLISHER: Electronic Arts
ESRB RATING: “M” for Mature
GENRE: Role Playing Game
Two years after Commander Shepard repelled invading Reapers bent on the destruction of organic life, a mysterious new enemy has emerged. On the fringes of known space, something is silently abducting entire human colonies. Now Shepard must work with Cerberus, a ruthless organization devoted to human survival at any cost, to stop the most terrifying threat mankind has ever faced.
To even attempt this perilous mission, Shepard must assemble the galaxy’s most elite team and command the most powerful ship ever built. Even then, they say it would be suicide. Commander Shepard intends to prove them wrong.
- Prepare for a suicide mission to save humanity
- Choose between 19 different weapons
- Devastating heavy weapons (that) can end a battle in seconds
- Recruit a team of the galaxy’s most dangerous operatives
- Explore the galaxy — scan planets to uncover unique secret missions
- Train and equip your team to survive insurmountable odds
- Control your conversation with physical moments of intense action
The opening sequence for Mass Effect 2 sets the tone early on for this decidedly darker story while immediately raising the stakes for the next chapter in Commander Shepard’s epic tale. The backdrop for Mass Effect 2 focuses on the disappearance of entire human colonies across the galaxy by an ominous threat called the Collectors — a mysterious but advanced, insect-like alien race that has had little to no contact with the rest of the known galaxy up until the events of Mass Effect 2 unfurl. Put to the task by a shadowy character known simply as the Illusive Man, Shepard is forced to turn to his pro-human organization, Cerberus, to aid in the investigation. While limited in exposure, the Illusive Man pulls the strings that advance large sections of the story. His organization, considered a terrorist group by many, and your rumored alliance to them will be a dividing force in the way others receive you. As you trek around the galaxy, you’ll run into former acquaintances and allies that have in some way changed since your last encounter, and not all will give you a warm reception — a product of your ties to Cerberus.
At its core, Mass Effect 2 is still mainly a character-driven story. Charged with assembling a powerful crew of fighters to help you on your quest, many of the missions focus on building strong personal relationships with each of your recruits as you work to earn their trust and loyalty. These recruitment missions quickly come to the forefront as the mass human abductions take a backseat for large portions of the game. While eager to discover the source of these veiled kidnappings, each of the recruitment missions along with their related quests are engrossing enough to keep you occupied while you further explore and immerse yourself into the Mass Effect universe.
One of the greatest strengths of this series is the way you’re able to shape the story to make it your own. The decisions you make could have far-reaching consequences, and it should be interesting to see how they impact the final installment of this trilogy. While it isn’t completely necessary, for those who may not have played Mass Effect 1, you would be doing yourself a disservice by not playing it as the decisions you make will affect the way the story plays out in the sequel. Not only will you run into characters from the first game in your travels, but player saves imported from Mass Effect 1 with a high level will gain a monetary boost and additional research resources. Plus, part of your Renegade or Paragon alignment will carry over.
As expected, BioWare goes the extra step in giving everything a highly polished, cinematic finish. Everything from the animation, pacing, camera work, dialogue and Hollywood cast used for the voice work helps to further realize this rich story. Even seemingly minor NPCs are given detailed tendencies and personalities that make each of them very unique and memorable in their own right.
While plenty of praise was heaped on BioWare for Mass Effect 1, there were certainly a fair number of shortcomings. The team behind the game heard the complaints, and they went about correcting and improving many of the issues that plagued the first iteration.
The most noticeable difference in the gameplay is in the drastically revamped battle system. You can immediately feel how much more fierce and visceral combat is this time around. The shooting mechanics have been upgraded with tighter controls, and your aim is based more on precision with the target assist from the first game purged. Firefights are more intense, enemies are tougher, new foes present different challenges and, in general, it’s just far more satisfying. While there are a number of welcome new changes and additions, the combat heavy focus may divide some fans of the series. It appears that many of the modifications were made to make it more accessible and appealing to a wider audience since the game can play out like a straight up third-person shooter.
The addition of thermal clips is a great improvement to the weapon system, which allows you to eject cartridges — similar to the typical ammo clips you find in most shooters — instead of having to wait for cool down periods. The hand off here is that it limits your ammo reserves — particularly for your stronger weapons — forcing you to at least partially be more conscientious of your use of weaponry. Still, with heat sinks being universal in design, there are usually plenty of clips scattered throughout each stage to refill your reserves.
Heavy weapons are introduced here, and they can be game-changers in the heat of battle. Taking the place of grenades, they offer more variety, dole out serious damage and allow for greater accuracy and range. They’re particularly handy when you’re facing off against heavies like mechs and gunships, but they’re severely restricted in ammo reserves and not replenishable by thermal clips, so you really need to pick your targets carefully.
The inventory system has been streamlined to an extreme level. While it’s a welcome change from the cluttered inventory system of Mass Effect 1, limiting your weapon options and stripping away customization on this severe of a level may not sit too pretty with RPG fanatics. They made a smart decision by making ammo abilities part of your power tree, but the overall lack of options is certainly disappointing.
Both biotic and tech abilities have seen a number of new additions. Now, you have the ability to curve powers around cover to hit your targets, which fundamentally changes the way you can approach each fight. Instead of waiting for your mark to pop their head out of cover, you can force them out using one of a number of abilities in your arsenal. Like an extension of your own abilities, you need to learn to use squad powers in conjunction with your own for a more tactical and efficient approach to taking down enemies. Being able to map three of your own and two squadmate abilities to buttons also allows for a more organic flow to battle as you won’t have to constantly pause the game to bring up the power wheel.
The stiff feel of movement, particularly in combat, is gone. Running and moving from cover to cover feels more fluid, allowing you to seamlessly work your way around the battlefield to best position yourself for takedowns. Instead of running into cover and hoping to eventually stick to it, a simple button press will hide you from view. You’re also capable of sliding into cover and even vaulting over it if it’s short enough. Properly utilizing the cover system is paramount during firefights — with smarter and more powerful AI enemies that come in larger waves, more often than not, you should take a patient and calculated approach to every firefight.
The leveling system has been overhauled into a much simpler system using brackets instead of large trees to level up abilities incrementally — one squad point for level one, two for the second and so on until you reach the fourth level of that particular ability. When you max out one of your abilities, they can evolve into one of two different forms — your choices on evolution will largely cater to your combat style. For instance, the shockwave power can evolve for longer range or a wider burst.
Like most everything else, the hacking and bypass mechanics have been rebuilt. They each take on the form of a simple matching system. Hacking requires you to navigate through a grid of code segments to match a string of them together. For bypassing, you are given a circuit board in which you must match pairs of symbols. Both are simple enough to accomplish and, they are, at times, a refreshing change of pace to the action.
With the oft-maligned Mako finally done away with, exploration takes on a more practical approach. You now travel to various planets scanning them and sending probes to mine the resources for you. Using a combination of feedback on the controller and a seismograph-like chart, you scan the surface of each planet to search for resources to mine. There are four elements — Element Zero, Iridium, Platinum and Palladium — that can be used to upgrade prototype technology, ship enhancements, your weapons or armor. Upgrading the planet scanner first is probably the most prudent choice since it makes scans noticeably faster, which you’ll wholly appreciate the moment you get it. The scanner is an easy choice over the long-winded Mako drives, but it’s certainly not an enjoyable task. In fact, planet scanning is possibly the worst part of the entire game as it’s a tedious chore that really breaks up the fast paced gameplay.
While the graphics from the first were amazing — even by today’s standards — the framerate and texture pop-in held it back. Not only do the visuals look even better, those pesky load issues have been fixed, allowing for a smoother experience. Everything has a higher level of detail, and the various locales are beautifully rendered and creatively designed.
Taking the place of those seemingly endless elevator rides is a more practical load screen, but the long wait times still remain. Yes, load screens are annoying, but any game on this scale is going to have them. It does, however, get really annoying having to take the elevator to different floors on the Normandy. It made traveling between floors to talk to crew members more of a chore than anything else.
Conclusion: BioWare continues to show why they’re one of the industry leaders in the RPG genre as they just significantly raised the bar. Mass Effect 2 is nothing short of a masterpiece, and this is truly a crowning achievement for the development team. Improving upon nearly all facets while fixing many of the problems that plagued the first, the second chapter is leaps and bounds ahead. Using a combat heavy focus with a plethora of new weapons and powers, the center of this trilogy is a memorable one that will garner plenty of attention once end-of-the-year awards are handed out.
|- Intense, flowing combat
- Cinematic level production values
- Character development
- New biotic and tech abilities
- No more Mako and endless elevator rides
|- Main story takes time to settle in and develop
- Minor load lag and bugs
- Cover system is not perfect
- Waiting for Mass Effect 3
Single Player: 10/10 | Multi-Player: N/A
Special thanks to Electronic Arts for providing us with a copy of the game for review.