Game Review: Mass Effect 2
Release: January 26, 2010 (NA), January 29, 2010 (EU)
Genre: Role-Playing Game
Developer: BioWare (published by EA)
Available Platforms: Xbox 360, PC
MSRP: $49.99 (PC), $59.99 (Xbox 360, PC Collector’s Ed.), $69.99 (Xbox 360 Collector’s Ed.)
ESRB Rating: M for Mature (for Blood, Drug Reference, Sexual Content, Strong Language, Violence)
Back for the second act in the space opera masterpiece, Mass Effect 2, Commander Shepard and crew have been sent around the galaxy to stamp out small pockets of the remaining Geth after their crippling defeat a few months earlier. While looking around a star cluster in the lawless Terminus Systems, the Normandy is set upon by an unidentifiable craft and gets treated like paper through a shredder. Your first taste of action comes as you are making your way from the crew’s quarters up to Joker to help him get to an escape pod and to safety. Well, in the process of getting him into a pod, you are flung into outer space, lost and presumed DEAD. That’s right, D-E-A-D.
After this catastrophic event, you are taken through the aptly named ‘Project Lazarus’ where you either create your initial Shepard (if you didn’t import) or you can ‘rebuild’ your old character (except for gender), even change the class. So if you are bummed that the Vanguard’s Charge ability looks bad-ass but only have a Soldier from the first, you don’t have to replay the first as a Vanguard. After you finish the character creation, you are thrown into a short tutorial scenario to get you familiar with the basics of the combat system, or get you re-acclimated and introduce you to its newest features. During this sequence, you will meet Miranda Lawson and Jacob Taylor, your initial pair of crewmembers.
As of this writing, I’m about 30 hours into the game, and my crew isn’t even complete. That, alone, should give you an idea of how truly deep and lengthy this title can be. I’ve heard that our fearless leader, Steve Artlip (Steve519) completed his game in 25 hours. I fully expect my first playthrough to take between 60-70 hours, and I’m perfectly fine with that. Given that I’ve neither seen nor done everything, I can say that BioWare has truly obliterated the standard for storytelling in gaming. Last year’s highly acclaimed Uncharted 2, which many considered 2009 Game of the Year, isn’t even on the same planet as Mass Effect 2.
You, as the newly rebuilt and risen-from-the-dead Commander Shepard, are charged with finding and recruiting the most highly-skilled (but certainly not the nicest) team of specialists from across the galaxy before you undertake your final mission. Along the way, you will also need to upgrade the new Normandy SR-2 (which looks jaw-droppingly amazing, by the way) with weapons, armor, and helpful items that will give you a better percentage chance of succeeding in your newest mission to save humanity. Each new member of the crew will have a side mission as well which will allow you to gain their loyalty (or not), allowing them to devote their full focus and energy on your mission. This all describes the basics or what happens to allow you closer to your goal.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a BioWare RPG without a plethora of side-quests to keep the game spicy to the taste. For those that import, you will notice a DISTINCT ‘fragrance’ to your playthrough. I say fragrance because you will actually FEEL as though you have molded this story with the decisions and choices made in the first title. This may show up as news stories that you hear played throughout space ports or email messages that you receive at your personal terminal throughout the game. Other decisions will have a more ‘active’ impact (Wrex’s fate, your love interest, etc) on how your story plays out. One thing that I’ve noticed is that you will be making some VERY tough decisions along the way that will weigh on you as you continue to play. Personally speaking, my character has had to ‘rethink’ some of her views and put some prejudices aside to ensure that the mission is a success. As the Salarian Councilor from Mass Effect said so often: ‘The mission must always take priority.’ That statement will define who you are in this chapter, as well as if you survive the final mission. In short, take ownership of your decisions because they carry immense weight, and, in fact, may mean the difference between life and death. No, really.
What truly makes this game stand out from every other game (and RPG) that I have played would take months (and a number of pages) to explain, so I’ll give you the abridged version. Front and center, the story immediately grabs your heart strings in the opening movie and simply doesn’t let go. I am 100% not lying when I say that I cried when I watched Shepard drift away into the cold black abyss of space. I’ve only truly cried one other time in my gaming experience, and that was during Lost Odyssey, the JRPG from Mistwalker Studios. I spent a good 2 or 3 minutes shedding real tears because I had invested so much of myself emotionally into my character from Mass Effect 1 that seeing her KIA (‘Killed In Action’ for those that were unsure) brought me to tears. BioWare succeeds in emotionally engaging their players to such a deep level that we feel that we ARE the characters that we create, and no one does this better, nor is it done any better than it is here.
While the dialogue in BioWare’s titles has always been top-notch, Drew Karpyshyn, Mac Walters, and the team of writers for Mass Effect 2 have truly outdone themselves with regards to the dialogue here. Not only is Mordin arguably BioWare’s best character EVER, but each of the other squadmates have amazing lines as well. Some would contend that, because we were given such an awesome character in Urdnot Wrex in the first title, the new crew aren’t great because they aren’t him. I say that’s a load of 100% garbage that people use because they don’t understand how a group of VIBRANT and DISTINCT (and I place equal emphasis on both words for a reason) party members is absolutely essential to a well-told story. My favorite non-party members are definitely the pair of engineers. Donnelly and Gabby going back and forth are great when coming back from a tough mission.
Next, the combat system has been 1000% improved (I know it’s impossible, but just indulge me for a moment, ok?). If you thought combat was tough or frustrating before, you should enjoy the improvements because you are allowed to place your crew SEPARATELY now (using left and right on the D-pad). This allows you to place a sniper (Zaeed) behind cover in the back of the battlefield while placing a frontline soldier (Grunt) where the action is. You can also assign your squadmates’ powers to the left and right buttons on the D-pad for on-the-fly squad commands instead of having to open the radial menu. I’m personally a fan of the radial because I’m not great at shooters and like to plan my attacks outside of real-time, but if you enjoy real-time combat, the new system should be an improvement.
Other points of improvement include getting rid of the Mako COMPLETELY so you no longer have to waste time ‘exploring’ unexplored planets. Instead, for upgrading purposes, you will either find minerals in the field of combat or you will have to literally SCAN the planet’s surface for minerals. At first, this can be slightly tedious, but their are upgrades for the Normandy that improve this ‘chore’ greatly. BioWare completely removed the inventory system as well, so forget the 150-item cap and the need to continuously sell loot to vendors. Instead, each class/squadmate is allowed to use certain ammo types (my Vanguard can use Incendiary and Cryo Ammo, for instance), and you find schematics for upgrades to improve ALL weapons of that type for your ENTIRE squad. You also no longer can equip all weapons (unless you play a SOLDIER class). My Vanguard can use neither Assault Rifles nor Sniper Rifles.
With all of these awesome improvements, it’s difficult to find a true ‘con’ here. It’s true that there are people out there that want to power through a game to ‘beat’ it and move on, and those people may feel that Mass Effect 2 takes more time than they are willing to invest. I’m sure that there will be quite a few people that find the new ‘scanning’ interface boring and slightly annoying, but to those people, I say this: do you simply want the necessary upgrades simply handed to you? If you want the best stuff, then you have to put in the time. If you don’t want to do that, feel free to go into the final mission with worse equipment than the rest of us. Of course, I’m simply grasping for straws now, and that feels like an exercise in futility for me.
Patrick’s Final Say: There isn’t a 100% perfect game out there. If there was, then everyone would play it and nothing else. But Mass Effect 2 comes about as close to perfection as a game can. From a storytelling perspective, there is seriously no game out there that can shine Mass Effect 2’s proverbial shoes. The revamped combat, loss of both the Mako and an inventory system did wonders for those that simply couldn’t take the first title. In short, if you like RPG’s, you likely have already bought this; if you don’t like RPG’s, do yourself a favor and at least rent Mass Effect 2 simply to experience the incredible story. You will not be disappointed.