REVIEWS -- Mass Effect 2 -- PC
Where’s my team at?
by Andrew Wilson
Fun factor: Fun
Worth to: Buy
A great game, but BioWare may have flown a little too close to the sun on this outing, offering players a story about recruiting team members rather than saving the Universe.
The first 10 minutes of Mass Effect 2 rank among the most exciting moments in videogame history. The player, after a brief cut scene and text intro a la the first Mass Effect, finds himself aboard the Normandy on the losing end of a lopsided ship-to-ship battle with the collectors. Within moments the security and confidence mustered through the adventures of the first game are gone, and so begins what BioWare has called the “Empire Strikes Back” of the series.
A more streamlined experience
There are a lot of great things to say about Mass Effect 2. The graphics are quite impressive. There are no more of the texture pop-ins that marred the otherwise-beautiful Mass Effect, and the loading times have surprisingly gotten shorter even though the game looks better. Throughout my 35-hour play-through I never experienced a single glitch or crash. The character models are amazingly detailed and quite expressive.
The sound is also impeccable. Barring other BioWare titles such as Dragon Age: Origins or the first Mass Effect, there is no game that can even come close to the voice-acting and score of Mass Effect 2. That said there are some minor flaws with the dialogue. I found some of Shepard’s lines to be laughable; who would say “that’s all for now” to a love interest? Also, as a minor quibble, while I thought Martin Sheen was amazing in his performance as the Illusive Man, I just couldn’t believe that voice was coming out of the character on screen. It took away some of the immersion from me. Nitpicking aside, Mass Effect 2 will surely be the benchmark for videogame voice-acting for years to come.
The gameplay is a major improvement. While it doesn’t share the fluidity of other third-person shooters like Gears of War, it feels natural and intuitive. There will certainly be fewer controller-throwing moments in this outing compared to the first. In contrast to the first game, though, there is an ammo (they call it “heat clips”) system. It felt like a downgrade from the first game, especially since it forces the player to use more of the weapon types, some of which are abysmal (submachine guns, for one).
Additionally, the RPG elements and inventory have been “streamlined” (or “gutted”). Players have six main skills with four levels a piece; level one costs one point, level two costs two, and so on. This leaves classes like the Vanguard (a combat-biotic mix) with few customization options. The inventory has been replaced by “Load-out Stations” for weapons, and ammo upgrades are now an individual talent. The bulk of customization in the game takes place through upgrades, which are bought or researched with resources found by scanning planets.
But where’s the story?
The story, on the other hand, is not without its flaws. The game takes place after the events of Mass Effect, which concluded with the player killing a Reaper, the series’ adversarial sentient-machine race, as well as its Turian special agent (SPECTRE, in the game’s lore) within the galactic government. Without spoiling too much, the trilogy’s overarching story seems stagnate in Mass Effect 2. Shepard once again finds himself fighting the Reaper’s middle management, except it’s Harbinger and the Collectors instead of Saren and the Geth.
The majority of the story comes from recruiting and gaining the loyalty of squad members, and Mass Effect veterans will be glad to know that Garrus and Tali are making a return to Shepard’s crew. While building a team of the galaxy’s best has its moments, it isn’t conducive to revealing more information about the Reapers and Humanity’s (and Galactic Civilization’s) impending doom. Conservatively, I would say about 80 percent of the game is spent recruiting your squad, with the remaining portion allocated to story missions, of which there are only four.
The way the game handles the decisions made in the first game is also less than expected. BioWare’s character input system -- something talked about since before Mass Effect was even released -- is one of the most ambitious projects in video game history. Every choice raises the amount of unique play-through combinations by a power of two. Only counting some of the main decisions from the first game (saving or killing the Rachni queen, saving Ashley or Kaiden, sparing Wrex, whether to save the council, picking the Human Counselor) would lead to 16 unique decision trees.
I understand it would be tough to make 16 different paths in the sequel, but there was hope that there would be more than superficial changes. If you save the Rachni, for example, there is only a brief dialogue tree as a reward.
Mass Effect 2 starts with a bang but hits several bumps along the way. All of the problems from the first game are gone, but they seem to have taken a lot of the RPG elements with them. The story feels more straightforward this time around, too. Though it isn’t bad, it feels like a bridge into a big finale rather than a strong, standalone epic. For something that was hailed as the “Empire Strikes Back” of the series, it’s lacking a Luke-I’m-your-father quality cliffhanger to keep us speculating while we wait for the final chapter.
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Genre: Action RPG
Release Date: January 26, 2010
Review Date: 25-03-2010
Numbers of Players: 1
Players Online: No
Notes: Downloadable Content, Dolby Digital 5.1
The same great graphics with the added bonus of having fewer glitches and no crashes. Load times have also been greatly reduced.
The streamlined gameplay mechanics are an improvement but the equipment upgrades and the ammo feature have gutted whatever RPG elements the series had going for it. The cross-title decision tree has no bearing on gameplay whatsoever, unless you consider reading dialog a gameplay element.
It’s no “Empire Strikes Back” as some would like us to believe. The bulk of the story consists of recruiting teammates, with only four missions actually relating to the epic story waiting to emerge. The choices we made in the previous game are only skin deep.
Sets a new benchmark in videogame dialogue, but some casting/character mismatches can draw you out of the experience, and Shephard is a formal with his/her love interests as in the first game.
Doesn’t quite carry the same lasting appeal as the previous game mainly because the decisions and their impacts aren’t as powerful or engrossing as ME1, so there’s no reason to give it another playthrough to see what would have been different.