Mass Effect 2
AMD Radeon HD2900XT
After the solid success of Mass Effect on both Xbox 360 and PC, BioWare set out to continue their sci-fi cinematic RPG with Mass Effect 2. The promise? Even better cinematics, better combat, streamlined RPG mechanics and an epic storyline that is underpinned with even better voice acting. Did BioWare pull it off or is it just another attempt at ‘milking the (cash) cow’.
The hype is high, the expectations – mixed, as the launch dates neared for Mass Effect 2 (ME). Not wanting to spoil anything for myself I steered clear of any videos, forum discussions or similar about Mass Effect 2. As one can imagine, my curiosity was high when ME2 finally unlocked on my Steam account, having pre-ordered it there. As I patiently waited for the game to start up I was finally greeted with a menu that uses audio effects, music and a cool art style to get my skin tingling. Having kept my Mass Effect 1 savegame I imported it into ME2, which as I should note is a really impressive feature. Once I did that I was immediately thrown back into a familiar place, the Normandy, with many familiar faces from the first game. What follows is well... shocking. My world was quickly turned upside down and I was overcome with emotion, not only for my crew, but for my own character. Without spoiling it for those of you wanting to still play the game, I can just say this. The player gets thrown into the thick of it without any delay. After the epic opening sequence I got to change some of my characters attributes. Mind you, the story explains why you can do it too, so even if you imported it still makes sense in the story. After having changed my class (from Soldier to Adept) and kept my default look of my male Shepard, I was now back in action and ready to save the universe once again.
The new threat this time? Well as I don’t want to spoil the ending of ME1 either, all I can say is there is a new unknown species (to humans), called ‘The Collectors’. The Collectors themselves are just a space rumour to most species in the Alliance. Sure enough though, they are real and they seem to be up to no good. Thus as Commander Shepard again, it is up to you to discover what the Collectors are up to and to stop them. The main story line is well written and has some very iconic and emotional moments where even the hardest of gamers (either male or female) will definitely shed a tear. Next to the main story, you also still have many side quests and optional storylines to discover. However, some of these are required to get the so-called ‘perfect’ ending. Whether you discover and complete these side quests/story lines is up to you though. Additionally, if you imported your ME1 savegame, there will be even more side quests to find and complete that relate to the choices you have made in ME1. The only negative thing to really mention here is that I was a bit disappointed with how little difference there was with the imported save to a normal non-import game. As I have played both completely and all you really get from the imported savegame is more dialogue sequences here and there and some short side quests that all relate to your choices throughout ME1. I just wish there was slightly more impact to the main story as an effect of your choices in ME1.
Space, the final frontier
As mentioned in ‘The Case’, BioWare’s promise was to streamline and improve gameplay, cinematic feel and RPG mechanics. This is probably where many people will disagree most about ME2. Personally, I really felt like ME2 was a big step in the right direction. The combat feels like it has a lot more impact and as a result the combat is much more fun and intense. BioWare removed the inventory system completely and now you can only find or buy additional weapons, instead of just being superior to the previous weapon you had, each weapon has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. As a result, you are no longer wasting hours micro-managing your inventory and guns and such at every turn of the game that you gain new loot – as was the case in ME1. This is also the reason BioWare decided to remove the inventory system and while people can argue all they want about how it is no longer an RPG, at the end of the day I do not care what you call it. It is and always will remain a video game, with the goal to give fun to the people who play it. This is why people buy video games - to have fun! Managing an inventory is not fun. That was what I would do when I worked at a computer store, the last thing I want to do is get home, start up a video game and do it in a fraking video game! Beyond this, an RPG means a lot more than simply the progression mechanics it has; an RPG is also a progression of the player through a story in which he has an influence on the story. In the latter of that, ME2 hits all the marks as the player definitely progresses through the story and influences the story in many different ways.
Beyond the inventory changes, the developers have also streamlined the RPG point system. This translates into fewer choices for players as to where they invest their levelling points. Here again it will really depend on what you want as a player, personally it did not bother me at all, while at the same time I did not see this as an improvement either. One cool thing they did do is they added a choice on each ability when you max it out, thus you get to choose the specialising of your character on each ability and each player will definitely choose a different choice here depending on their play style. The changes do not stop here though; BioWare also changed the shooting mechanics. In the first game the shooting mechanics were, like Borderlands, a cross between RPGs and third-person shooters. Thus, as you level up you could spend points which improved the strength of your guns and as you discovered new loot, you could also find vastly superior guns in terms of the stats they had. This has all been thrown out of ME2, instead the player’s guns remain as strong throughout the game and the gun mechanics are that of a regular shooter without any RPG mechanics in it. Players do have the opportunity to upgrade each gun class though, through research available on the ship. As mentioned earlier, you can find more guns but these shoot differently rather than being inferior or superior to your existing guns. The advantage of this change is that gunplay just feels a lot better in ME2, the disadvantage is that people wanting a more RPG-ish experience will only find disappointment in the gunplay.
The apple certainly has fallen far from the tree for this neighbourhood
Another drastic change in ME2 is the exclusion of the planet landing and Mako gameplay sequences. In fact, the Mako is nowhere to be seen in ME2. Only in some of the DLCs that were released later did BioWare include a new type of vehicle (Hammerhead) that replaces the Mako and even here the gameplay is completely different from the Mako and the focus has shifted entirely from exploration on massive planets to pure combat sequences in small areas. A new feature was added though, namely planet scanning. This is a mini-game where the player flies to different planets and then manually scans them using the mouse to find resources. Yes... it really does sound as boring as it is, the worst part here is that if you want to research all the upgrades for your ship, companions and Commander Shepard himself (armour, weapons, etc...), you need to do a lot of planet scanning. Beyond the planet scanning mini-game, there are also a few other types of mini-games for unlocking safes and such. Nothing really to note about these as some people really will hate them, while others like myself can quite enjoy them as they add some variety to the gameplay.
- Story: A deep and emotional story from start to finish.
- Cinematic: The game just screams cinematic experience on every aspect
- Unique features: This is perhaps one of, if not, the first game to feature interactions that influence cutscenes and dialogue sequences.
- Combat: The combat flows really well and is both visceral and intense.
- Audio: Superb music, voice acting and sound effects.
- Import feature: The import feature is very unique and impressive, however they could have done so much more with it.
- Textures: Not everyone will mind the textures due to the art style being so good.
- Streamlined RPG: The reduced attributes players have will be received differently by each player
- Inventory management: While I definitely loved the omission of this features, some players will definitely miss it
- Mako: Just because the Mako had its issues does not mean they had to remove that feature completely
- Planet scanning: I am surprised this made it past the play testers!