Mass Effect 2
Developed By: BioWare
Published By: EA Games
Reviewed by Firedancer34
Facts and Stats:
Mass Effect 2 is an action-role playing game, and the second in the planned trilogy of games to be released. It was released on January 26, 2010 for both the Xbox 360 and Microsoft Windows. Unlike the original game, Mass Effect 2 is also slated to be released for the Playstation 3 platform in January of 2011. The first Mass Effect game was met with critical acclaim and success and Bioware spent months building its fans anticipation for the game with a substantial amount of marketing via viral marketing, E3 announcements and previews, and constant updates on their website. Fans were treated to artwork, documentaries about the game’s development, bios on the various characters, and tantalizingly edited videos. By the time the game was released over 2 million copies had been shipped out for orders and the gaming community flocked to their local stores for special midnight launches through the United States. It was the first highly anticipated game of 2010 and it lived up to the anticipation.
Bioware delivered an amazing product in the game of Mass Effect 2, and it received high accolades and reviews from nearly every gaming source. Most reviewers gave the game either perfect or near perfect scores, all of them declaring that the game’s overall package was well developed and beautifully delivered. It was noted that there are very few games that have received such high scores by nearly every major publisher within the gaming community. At the time of this review there are still a couple of months left in 2010, so no annual awards have been handed out yet, but it is highly likely that even in a year with some other major releases to compete against, Mass Effect 2 will likely garner more awards because of how impressed people were with the game. Currently, it holds the prestige of being the fourteenth best game of all time on GameRankings and the third best released for the XBox 360.
Mass Effect 2 picks up only 2 months after the final events in the first game. The main protagonist from the first game, Commander Shepard is aboard the ship Normandy and chasing after left-over Geth holdouts when the crew encounters a ship of unknown origin and incredible firepower. The Normandy is destroyed, some of the crew lost, and Shepard is unfortunately spaced and killed while trying to save Lt. Jeff 'Joker' Moreau, Normandy’s pilot.
In the meantime, the extremist human rights group known as Cerberus, lead by an individual only known as The Illusive Man, have been tracking Shepard’s movements. After Shepard is killed in action, they acquire the body and The Illusive Man entrusts one of his brightest protégé’s- Amanda Lawson - with Project Lazerus. Over the course of the next two years, Lawson works to resurrect Shepard from the dead, and in the process makes quite a few ‘modifications’ to Shepard.
Shepard wakes up in the medical facility, and after battling his/her way through a horde of sabotaged Mech units, comes across the first two members that will join the team: Amanda Lawson and Jacob Taylor. They bring Shepard back to the Illusive Man who fills Shepard in on how things have been going since his/her death. The threat of the Reapers has been essentially swept under the carpet and the Citadel attacks blamed solely on the Geth. There is political unrest in the galaxy as the various races vie for power. Shepard’s former team was forcibly splintered and silenced by Alliance Command. And now human colonies are disappearing and the Alliance is dragging its feet in looking into the attacks.
Shepard is given little choice but to chase the leads that Cerberus can provide, despite the fact that he/she was on a personal mission to shut them down before. Shepard agrees to head to a colony that was recently attacked where the team discovers that an elusive insectoid race known only as the Collectors are the ones responsible for the disappearing colonies. Problem is, they live beyond the Omega 4 Mass Effect Relay, and no one has ever returned from there. To travel to Collector Territory would be suicide. The Illusive Man leaks to the Alliance that Shepard is alive and working with Cerberus, knowing the Alliance will unofficially break ties with him/her. This forces Shepard to rely solely on Cerberus to help stop the threat of the Collectors before more colonies are lost.
The Illusive Man provides Shepard with a new ship- the Normandy 2, which is larger, faster, and more powerful than the original ship. It is also crewed by a couple of Shepard’s original team: Dr. Chakwas and Joker. They both admit that they left the Alliance after being grounded and silenced but only joined the mission because Shepard was leading it. They have as much loathing for Cerberus as an organization as Shepard does, and their loyalties are to her alone.
The main portion of the game is spent gathering people The Illusive Man has deemed the best candidates for Shepard’s ‘Suicide Mission’ through the Omega 4 Relay, and then winning their loyalty by accomplishing personal side missions for each. The team ranges from professional mercenaries and criminals, to former comrades, official law enforcers and scientists. Throughout the game Shepard will run across various scenarios that play out according to how things were decided in the first game if the player has transferred that character save over. At one point, the entire team heads off Normandy for a mission and the Collectors attack the ship once again, taking the entire crew except for Joker, who with the help of the ship’s A.I., EDI, manages to escape.
It all culminates at the end of the game with the team heading into the Omega 4 Relay for the ‘Suicide Mission’. There are many factors that come into play to determine the success of Shepard’s objectives during the mission. Shepard must choose the right people to lead the various teams for the tasks that will split the group up to start with. The timeliness of their venture into the Omega 4 Relay will also factor into how many people of the crew can be saved once the team reaches the heart of the Collector Territory. Finally, the loyalty of Shepard’s team will determine the overall success of the mission.
At the end of the game you learn that the Collectors have been working with or for the Reapers and Shepard’s fear that the Reapers are an imminent threat to life in the galaxy is highlighted by the final teasing scenes in the game where we see a whole armada of Reapers poised at the edge of the galaxy.
Shortly after Mass Effect was released, Bioware let its fans know that one of the first features being developed for Mass Effect 2 would be the ability to import your character saves from the first game into the second game. So for all Xbox 360 and PC players, the option to continue your original character(s) storyline(s) was available. Unfortunately, this option will not be available to PS3 owners because the original game was never released for the Sony console. For Sony players and anyone who did not play the first game, the game will start you off with a character whose choices in the first game are already pre-set. While this won’t necessarily affect game-play drastically, certain interactions (or lack of them) with other NPC’s are a result of decisions a player makes during the first Mass Effect. Most fans who played the first game, played it through two or more times to take advantage of the various options presented during gameplay (and to collect the various achievements that were only possibly through multiple playthroughs). By having multiple character saves to import into the Mass Effect 2 game, a player simply has the chance to play out a larger variety scenarios with certain NPC’s. A preset character will have the same interactions every time.
As with the first game, the player can choose how they want their character, Commander Shepard, to look. As a side note, the scarring on Shepard is considerably more pronounced after being brought back from the dead and will either fade away or grow worse depending on how good or ruthless a player’s choices are. At one point there is an option to completely heal your character, but that option is not immediately available during the game.
While game-play was well done in the first game, Bioware outdid themselves in improving how the game is played. The combat system was improved overall and they dumped several aspects that were the most complained about issues within the first game. A player no longer has to cycle through a plethora of armor, weapons, weapon upgrades or ammunition choices for each battle, as the selection process has been simplified greatly. Grenades are now replaced by the use of a Heavy Weapon choice, along with certain biotic attacks that can double as an explosive attack once a player reaches a certain level. Certain attacks can be hot-keyed, and biotic power attacks are much more refined. They kept the overall controller layout, which made transition from the first game to the second smoother than many other game series where developers change up controller functions with each new release.
In respect to certain technical aspects of the game, a player’s health and shields now automatically regenerate over time, and their weapons now depends on ammo clips, thus making it a bit more ‘realistic’, and challenging. The two biggest complaints players had, was the long and almost painful elevator rides that were originally created to ‘mask’ loading times, and the poor handling of the Mako - a vehicle used for exploring planets. Both elements were scrapped, and in the case of loading times, Bioware simply reverted to the traditionally styled loading screen. In the original release there was no secondary vehicle for a player to drive/fly, however a later released DLC package was for a small shuttle type vehicle to use for certain extra missions, and it’s handling was regarded as a considerable improvement over the Mako.
The conversation mechanics remained the same as the first game, allowing a player to direct dialog and interactions with the various characters. Bioware also retained the Paragon/Renegade system, and as stated previously, this will directly effect Shepard’s physical looks as the game progresses. Depending on how strongly a player sticks with one conversational personality, this can also lead to unlocking certain dialog of actions that could be key to how a scene plays out.
The only real technical complaints that have come out about the game is in regards to the font it uses in both the dialog subtitles and in the task of hacking computers which requires a player to look at a page of multiple and small, scrolling, colored lines. Bioware developed the game with a mind towards HDTV players and those with standard definition or smaller sized televisions complained that the font was too small or unclear. Bioware issued a statement that said the problem was not something that could be fixed with a patch and so it would be an issue they would address in the development for Mass Effect 3.
Simply put: this game blew every expectation I had out of the water. For someone who is not an RPG fan, I found myself captivated by the first game and then when Bioware began teasing the fans with juicy little tidbits of the upcoming game I was dying for the release of ME2. Bioware did a fantastic job in building up the anticipation for this game, and I was one of the thousands who lined up at midnight for their pre-ordered copy and spent the whole night playing it.
The game starts with a beautifully done, and very intense cinematic scene in which you watch your character die. I sat there stunned after that scene and was immediately engrossed by what would happen next. Bioware sucks you into their universe once more, and does an incredible job of emotionally putting the player right there with your character every step of the way.
There are so many things that Bioware did to upgrade what was already a fantastic game to start with. They really listened to the feedback they got on the first game and implemented nearly every change that gamers wanted for the second installment. Issues for people with HDTV aside, the graphics in this are absolutely stunning. From greatly improved character designs, movements, and actions, to the stunning variety and intricacy of the various planets, races, stations and worlds that the player visits. The amount of detail that went into all the visual designs of this game was amazing. The evolved combat system is nearly flawless, and the simplified selection process for weapons, armor upgrades, and biotics is so much more enjoyable than the tedium of the previous selection process.
The sound department delivered an amazing performance as well. The voice acting was even more phenomenal, and the developers doing a fantastic job in selecting the right people for each character. The variety of accents and dialects used throughout the game, lent to the expansiveness of the Mass Effect universe, and the various races and creatures that inhabit it. The background noise was also well done, from club scenes to epic battles, the sound effects were realistic and well balanced. Then there was the music. Mass Effect’s composer, Jack Wall, outdid himself with the score to this game. While keeping certain elements from the first game, you can tell that he really threw himself into creating a score that would be as epic as the game itself. There are key moments in the game where the emotion is building and sometimes there is no dialog to go along with it. In those moments, Wall manages to enhance the emotional experience with his compositions, ten fold. Take for example the moment Shepard is reunited with Joker, who takes her to see the new Normandy. There is some brief dialog along the way, in which Wall begins to build the anticipation of something awesome to come. Then the Normandy 2 is revealed and while the characters enjoy a moment of awed silence, the track (titled The Normandy Reborn) reaches its peak and holds you there as the camera pans all around the new ship giving the player a chance to be just as awed and excited about the new ship. There are plenty of moments like this throughout the game, along with a wide variety of styles that Wall uses in keeping with the diversity of the game’s eclectic mix of main characters.
Speaking of characters, Bioware did a great job in assembling a cast of characters that could appeal to everyone. While I enjoyed the first crewmembers my character interacted and fought with, Bioware really stepped up character development this time around. Not only do you pick up these people along the way to fight with you, but you get to know them on a personal level as the game develops. Something that you really didn’t get to do much of in the first game. In this respect, you become more emotionally invested in this group than the first. And while you don’t necessarily end up with all of your old team, you do at least run across them during the game and have some interesting interactions with them that leave hope for possibly seeing more of them in the third installment.
The vast diversity in your second crew however was simply astounding. You have a trained assassin seeking penance during the final months of his life working along side a devout upholder of the law. You have an angry ex-convict, whose biotic talents are the product of being forcibly experimented upon as a child, working on the same team as an agent of the very organization that was behind her childhood agony. You have a by the book former Alliance officer, who is working amongst thieves, renegades, murderers, and mercenaries. It makes for incredible team dynamics and interactions, something that you didn’t get a whole lot of in the first game.
This diversity also allows for Bioware to follow through with their known penchant for include romantic scenes with their protagonist. However they did back off on certain elements that earned them quite a bit of heat in the first game. In the first game, the player was allowed the option of choosing to engage their female character in a lesbian relationship that also led to a somewhat revealing love scene. Bioware opted not to continue with this theme for ME2 keeping all possible romantic interests strictly hetero-sexual. The only exception to this is in the DLC that was released where Liara T’Soni, who was the lesbian love interest for the female Shepard character in the original game, is reunited with the team for a brief mission. After the mission she then has the option of being invited back to the ship where she can catch up with Shepard, and the player has more of an option to choose how far that ‘catching up’ goes. As far as love scenes go, while they are not as scandalous or revealing as the first game, they are enough to warrant the M rating that the game was given for sexual content, language and violence.
Finally, there is the amount of content in this game. You definitely get your money’s worth out of this with two discs and at least fifty plus hours of game play if you do all the loyalty and side missions. Sure you can blow through the game in under twenty five hours by not doing that, but then you’re shortchanging yourself drastically, not to mention survival odds are seriously against you in the final fight. There is also all the DLC that has been made available since the game’s release. Unlike the first game where DLC had been promised and then was very delayed and was next to nothing, Bioware really went all out on the DLC and amount of content each contained. While a few were simple armor upgrades and such, several new missions have been released, along with the ability of new characters to join your crew during the main campaign. Bioware has announced after all the releases to not expect much if anything else now for the future as they are focusing on the development for Mass Effect 3.
All in all this is probably my favorite game to date. Comprehensively speaking, it is one of the best games that has been made in my opinion. If you are looking for a great game to play that will give you your money’s worth, then Mass Effect 2 is a must have for your collection. Mass Effect 3 is slated for a release in late 2011, but will most likely be bumped back to early 2012 like Mass Effect 2 was. It is to be the third and final installment of the series and one that Mass Effect’s fans, myself included, are eagerly awaiting.
Rating on a scale of 1-10
Overall Gameplay: 10