Review: Mass Effect 2
We’ve only just reached the end of the first month of 2010 and already it looks like we have a candidate for Game of the Year. Mass Effect 2, one of the most anticipated games of the year, sequel to 2007′s big hit Mass Effect, has finally arrived and with it comes an amazing experience like no other. I’ve been waiting for this game for quite a long time now, and when it finally released I was quite literally addicted to it. You most likely need no explanation as to what makes BioWare’s Mass Effect so good, but since my job also requires me to tell you what’s bad about a game, let’s continue on with an in-depth analysis of the second game in the Mass Effect trilogy.
[Note: For an in-depth explanation of my review system, go here: Tody's Review System]
Name: Mass Effect 2
Genre: Third Person Shooter/RPG
Platforms: PC, Xbox360
Publishers: Electronic Arts
Release Date: 26-29 January 2010
Mass Effect 2 picks up not long after the events of the first game, putting you once again in the shoes of Commander Shepherd. At the beginning of the game you have the option of importing your save game file from Mass Effect 1, if you still have it, or if you don’t you can enter the story following the original Mass Effect plot, rather than the one that you created. I really don’t want to reveal much about the story, because Mass Effect 2 really is a true BioWare masterpiece, one that you have to experience yourself to the fullest in order to get the most out of it. Admittedly, if you never played Mass Effect 1 the story won’t have as much of an impact as it should, because ultimately it’s the connection, relationships and struggles and choices you made as you went through the story with the characters that makes the experience so much more. Still, even if you haven’t played the first game, I can strongly state that this should not be an excuse to not play this game.
It’s back to the future in the year 2183, and all sentient life are facing incalculable danger. An advanced race of machines, known as the Reapers, are hellbent on complete annihilation. Even though Commander Shepherd achieved victory against the Reapers at the end of Mass Effect, the end is nowhere in sight. Shepherd now has to take the fight to them, which is seen as suicidal from the beginning. In order to do this, Shepherd plans to recruit the best and most able and dangerous individuals all over the galaxy to help in the struggle against the Reapers. But the problems don’t end there, as across the galaxy, human colonies have been mysteriously disappearing, gone without any trace of them ever have being there. This leaves it up to Shepherd and his crew to investigate these strange disappearances and combat the new threat. I’m going to leave it ambiguous from here, because if you’re eager to get into the second game in the Mass Effect trilogy, you should leave it up to the game to fill in the rest.
Anyone who knows Mass Effect will know that the heart of the experience lies with the characters, your personal involvement with them and your impact on the game world. It’s an extremely rare find to play a game as immersive and engaging as Mass Effect, one that truly captures you and has you constantly reflecting on your own actions. You will see the effects and results of your decisions and actions from the first game all over Mass Effect 2, and there are constant reminders that your decisions in this sequel will carry over to Mass Effect 3, and bearing that weight on your shoulders actually makes the experience so much more involved. If that isn’t enough, this time around you will recruit a larger number of characters on your team in comparison to the first game, some even making a return from it. BioWare have simply crafted these characters masterfully, and every single one of them are interesting, deep, characterised spectacularly, voiced over brilliantly and contribute more depth and meaning to the plot, turning Mass Effect 2 into an experience that few games can match. There is no end to the praise I can give to the voice acting, the characters or the story. Simply put, Mass Effect 2 delivers an awesome experience that will blow the minds of Mass Effect fans and even manage to captivate those new to the series.
What makes the story and characters even more immersive is Mass Effect’s unique conversation and alignment systems. Introduced in the first game, back in 2007, this innovative system is still one of the best dialogue systems in gaming around today, with a few upgrades in Mass Effect 2 of course. With the alignment, there is no good and evil, as is typical, but instead you can choose to either be righteous (paragon), neutral, ruthless (renegade) or a combination of all. The more good deeds you perform, the more paragon points you gain, and it works the same for renegade – you gain points for both simultaneously, so you can be completely paragon but still have some renegade points for a few lapses of judgment. Gaining points in these areas opens up more dialogue options in conversations – the ones that can truly make all the difference. In Mass Effect, you are always the good guy, but your approach to situations determines how others feel about you.
With conversation, instead of listening to people have their say and then selecting your response from a list, making dialogue a bit slow and unrealistic, Mass Effect takes a simple yet extremely effective approach. Basically, when it’s your turn to speak, you simply select your response from a radial dialogue circle that appears on screen. Your dialogue will comprise of emotional responses, aside from questions asked to gain information, usually including some righteous, neutral and renegade remarks. It might seem like the exact same thing, but the difference is that in Mass Effect you can bring up the dialogue box while the conversation is going, so you have a little bit of time beforehand to choose before it’s your turn. The result is that, in combination with the astounding voice acting, conversations are extremely engaging and flow awesomely, replicating real conversation, as it is all done in real time.
A new feature in Mass Effect 2 makes them even better, in that you’re now able to perform paragon and renegade actions during conversations and cutscenes. Meaning that, while a cutscene or conversation is happening, a button input will come up on screen, blue for paragon and red for renegade, that will allow you to perform certain actions depending on the situations. For example, a paragon act could be to prevent someone from killing another, while a renegade act would be to rough someone up in order to get information. These actions are awesome, especially since they keep you immersed in the cutscenes and conversations in addition to providing even more options for how you want things to play out, giving you a great sense of control.
Gameplay wise, Mass Effect 2 has improved on the original, just as it did in all other areas. The game focuses much more on action than its predecessor, making Mass Effect 2 a lot more like a third person shooter than ever, even more so with the smoother implementation of the cover system. The six classes from Mass Effect 1 make a return, namely Soldier, Vanguard, Adept, Sentinel, Engineer, and Infiltrator. This time around, they have been more refined, equipped with more powers and unique weapon specialisations. You’re going to be getting a very different combat experience depending on which class you choose. Added to the fact that you can now control your squad more fluidly and easily, allowing you to command them as you see fit, and the combat is already much better than the first game. Make no mistake, while Mass Effect 2 is a thrill ride of awesome action, it can be very challenging at times, so tactics, teamwork, abilities and cover can greatly turn the tide of battle rather than ramboing. Although this is still an option of course, one that can be very enjoyable.
There have been many changes to the gear system and gameplay to Mass Effect 2, most of them improving the experience rather than lessening. For starters, your weapons no longer overheat, but instead have ammunition, which you find all over the place. Most standard weapons take the same ammo, so finding clips will refill most of your guns. There are a lot more weapon types in Mass Effect 2, such as heavy weapons, like grenade launchers, sub-machine guns and heavy pistols. Instead of the slightly tedious system of finding dozens of new weapons, armours and omni tools on every mission and having to constantly compare them, as you did in the first game, Mass Effect 2 adopts a much simpler and more enjoyable system. Finding weapons is quite a rare occurrence, but when finding one it unlocks for your whole team. Instead of finding weapons and armour, you will come across research upgrades, either by finding, buying or unlocking them. On the Normandy ship you’re able to research dozens of upgrades for your weapons, armour, ship and buy completely new weapons. Once an upgrade is bought, it automatically applies to the area necessary, so you don’t have to pick which upgrades you need. Also, the game has now adopted the health regeneration system, so when your shields break and your health is low, you need to stay out of the battle for a couple of moments to regenerate. Medi-gel is no longer used to heal you, due to this, but is instead used to revive fallen teammates.
Admittedly, the now very simplistic nature of the weapon, armor and power systems doesn’t really welcome hardcore RPG players with open arms, but I find it admirable that BioWare have managed to cater for both RPG and shooting fans alike in Mass Effect 2. Also, the health regeneration system can prove to be quite annoying at times, because it does take a bit of time to heal, and sometimes you’ll find yourself trapped in a catch 22 situation between death and death, which can sometimes be irritating. What I’d also like to point out is that the third person shooting is quite basic by today’s standards. Fortunately, the powers, Mass Effect weapons and feel and variety in enemies make the action really awesome, but it would have been nice to see a little more depth in the third person shooting, I mean, blind fire could have at least been an option.
It really seems like every issue or shortcoming with the first game has been addressed and greatly improved in this sequel. There is so much more to explore in the galaxy, and all of those copy paste planets from the first game have been completely removed. There is so much to do and explore that it sometimes feels overwhelming. There is plenty of incentive to explore, due to the rewards you’ll get, the missions you’ll unlock and the satisfaction you’ll get from making a difference, for good or bad, in the areas you’ll be visiting. The levels are fantastically designed this time around, each giving you a completely different feel and playground to fight in. BioWare have really gone out of their way to ensure that Mass Effect 2 remains a fresh experience while playing, and their effort has really paid off. Completing the main campaign, in addition to completing a fair number of side quests, will take you over 20 hours your first time around. If you decide to explore everything the game has to offer you, and go back for a second playthrough, which you will most likely do, you’re looking at a damn long time to be well spent playing Mass Effect 2, especially since you can either carry on playing and doing side quests once you’ve finished the main campaign or start a completely new game, importing your Mass Effect 2 character to use, which basically is the same as a new game+ mode.
All of this might lead you to believe that Mass Effect 2 is perfect, and I’d say that it came very close to being near perfect. Unfortunately though, the game is not without its flaws. Firstly, Mass Effect 2 has a great deal of polish, and its graphics are fantastic, but sadly it’s not polished to perfection. There are a couple of very annoying issues that I came across, for example, on more than one occasion I found myself getting stuck in the environment, unable to free myself unless I reloaded my save game. My teammates suffered the same fate once or twice, but luckily they can find their way to you in the end. There are some instances where a powerful enemy will repeatedly stun you with explosions, resulting in you getting shot from multiple directions, killing you off with you unable to save yourself. Then there are a few graphical glitches, such as objects going through solids. There was one time I came across a crash bug as well. Thankfully though, all of these issues are a rarity, and don’t put a damper on the experience you’re going to have.
Graphically, I’ve mentioned that Mass Effect 2 is fantastic, and I’m reinforcing that statement. The environments are large, beautifully detailed and breathtaking, the character models are superbly well done and the visual effects from the weapons and powers are awesome. For the PC version, if you have a good rig this is definitely a game you’d want to take full advantage of graphically. Furthermore, the game has been optimised for the PC, with the HUD (heads-up display) being slightly different to the Xbox360 version in order to support the keyboard and mouse, allowing you make use of the many keys on the keyboard for hot keys and such.
Mass Effect 2 really is an amazing experience like no other. A truly spectacular way to start the year of 2010, with a game so good that I can foresee it being a nominee in the Game of the Year Awards already. BioWare have proven once again that they are the masters of immersive role playing action games, delivering yet another awesome, engaging and deep experience that you’ll be unable to keep away from. Unfortunately, only a couple of damaging flaws prevent Mass Effect 2 from being perfect, but in its current state there is no denying just how great this game really is. Mass Effect 2 brings back that sense of epic we’ve been missing in gaming for a while, and is fully worth all of the praise it gets, and all of the time you’ll spend playing it.
- There are some technical hiccups, such as you getting stuck in the environment, unable to free yourself unless you load your save game again. I experienced a crash bug as well, but these issues are overall very rare. There are some graphical bugs as well.
- Overly simplistic weapon, armour and power systems takes away some of the hardcore RPG element. A lot of the RPG factor was replaced with action. Still, there’s a lot of role playing here, and it remains very true to Mass Effect.
PC Minimum System Requirements
- OS = Windows XP SP3 / Windows Vista SP1 / Windows 7
- Processor = 1.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo or equivalent AMD CPU
- Memory = 1 GB RAM for Windows XP / 2 GB RAM for Windows Vista and Windows 7
- Hard Drive = 15 GB
- DVD ROM = 1x Speed
- Sound Card = DirectX 9.0c compatible
- Direct X = DirectX 9.0c August 2008 (included)
- Input = Keyboard / Mouse
- Video Card = 256 MB (with Pixel Shader 3.0 support). Supported Chipsets: NVIDIA GeForce 6800 or greater; ATI Radeon X1600 Pro or greater. Please note that NVIDIA GeForce 7300, 8100, 8200, 8300, 8400, and 9300; ATI Radeon HD3200, and HD4350 are below minimum system requirements. Updates to your video and sound card drivers may be required. Intel and S3 video cards are not officially supported in Mass Effect 2.