Game Rant's Robert Keyes reviews Mass Effect 2
Before it even released, the hype surrounding the long-awaiting sequel to BioWare's 2007 hit game Mass Effect suggested that Mass Effect 2 would easily be a game of the year contender for 2010. Does it meet expectations? In short, it surpasses them for the most part, while not quite meeting them in a few areas.
Mass Effect 2 sets out to continue the story of Commander Shepard in his/her quest to hinder the impending threat known as the Reapers. It continues the epic story of the first game and paves the way for the trilogy conclusion to come, but doesn't offer as much of a main story as its predecessor. Instead, most of the game is focused on the supporting characters and Shepard's endeavor to recruit them and earn their trust in preparation for the biggest mission of their lives.
Mass Effect is one of our favorite games on the Xbox 360 to date. It brought something completely new to the table and offered countless hours of gameplay from RPG style character progression through experience, stats, powers, weapons, armor to 3rd person team-based combat, and even vehicular exploration and combat. It took what was amazing about Knights of the Old Republic in terms of storytelling and character development in a sci-fi space adventure and shattered the conventions and limitations set before it. Did Mass Effect 2 continue the trend? Read on to find out!
Mass Effect 2 opens up with an incredible and shocking introduction to Commander Shepard and his memorable teammates from the first game. The events here change Shepard forever and give players an entirely new perspective, now working for Cerberus, the extremist pro-human organization you battled on several occasions in the first game. After the intro, you're thrown right into the action and this is where the game excels.
The action/combat bits are clearly the most noticeable improvement over the first Mass Effect but there are slightly less opportunities to enjoy this aspect of the game. Gone are the planets to drive around on that provided long-range combat, and also gone are the variety of weapons and weapon upgrades, instead replaced with abilities that allow you to change ammo types, depending on what class of character you play as.
As you progress, players no longer upgrade individual weapons with different mods for Shepard or his/her teammates. You also never get to pick up new armor for you or your team to upgrade. All of these RPG elements surrounding inventory management are nearly completely removed from Mass Effect 2 in BioWare's attempt at streamlining the gameplay and for some, including me, this is my first major problem with the game. As a lengthy RPG where the characters are important, an economy, weapons, inventory and progression through make you feel as though your character and team are getting stronger or more powerful as you get deeper into the game and travel the universe.
Mass Effect 2 features approximately two dozen clusters, each usually containing several star systems to explore. This is how you can find a few smaller side-missions and about a hundred other planets to scan for mineral deposits. Part of the fun of the journey is seeing only a few clusters to explore at the beginning of the game, only to see the map littered with destinations as you progress.
Traversing the vast expanse now involves a fueling system for the new Normandy which you deplete while traveling within a cluster from one star system to another. This is an unnecessary gameplay element, but it does add another layer into plotting out your travels and in selecting your next missions or areas to search for resources, which takes us to what may be the most contentious issue of Mass Effect 2: Planet Scanning.
When entering a new star system, all of the planets will be "unexplored" until you fly to them and click to read their description. Then you can begin the scanning process if you wish to do so. BioWare added an incredibly unsatisfying system here where you have to scan around the planet until you see spikes show up on the chart which reveal heavy deposits of minerals.
When you start seeing a spike in one of the four resources, you focus your scanning reticule to get the highest spike possible on the chart and launch a probe to reap the rewards. It was neat for the first two planets, but the dozens afterward really made us miss the option to land on planets and drive around, fighting enemies.
While combat is fun and while picking up sweet new items and upgrading them makes you want to continue progressing, Mass Effect's big selling points are its story and characters. It is a BioWare title, after all. Unfortunately, Mass Effect 2 didn't carry the epic galaxy-saving, Spectre-becoming story of the first game, but it sure did make use of the roster of characters, especially in the final act of the game, arguably the best part of the franchise to date.
There are more recruitable characters in ME2 than its predecessor, with some returning favorites, and the new additions are simply awesome. A big portion of Mass Effect 2 is spent on recruiting the characters one at a time and learning their histories, and these missions are the biggest and best ones of the game. However, this process in which you attain the missions is very robotic and uninventive in its structure. Essentially, the player gets a dossier on a character to recruit, then goes to planet where that person is at to talk to whoever's in charge to get going on the mission to get the character - then once you do said mission, the character is eager to join you on this suicide mission. No biggie, right? Once you recruit another team member, each character has exactly one upgrade to offer to the ship and exactly one special loyalty mission you need to do for them to get said upgrade. That's it. It's the same for everyone, whether more loyal or not.
The loyalty missions are side-quests that allow you to make every character which unlocks each character's special unique power. More importantly, it also makes them "loyal" which affects their outcome in the final act of the game. As a side note, be careful of what you do at that point as we know your decisions will affect your character and story in Mass Effect 3...
With such a large roster who remain mostly unused in your playthrough, it would have been nice to get more of the characters involved in more story-based missions. Even expanding on the loyalty aspect by having returning characters from the first game (like Garrus) not need to become loyal (he already should be), but needing to do more to gain the trust of a character such as Subject Zero/Jack.
Mass Effect 2's main story is defined by the moment you have your team and choose to go through the Omega 4 Relay and enter the Collector base. The Collectors are the game's primary antagonists this go around and they're working for the Reapers, who only Shepard is fighting to prove actually exist.
Crossing through the relay is the only time when the full team you've assembled actually acts as a team and it's also the first time in the series where players see more than 3-4 characters together in a room during gameplay and cinematics. It is in this final act of the game where the purpose for having a small army is revealed and it is epic. Be careful of how you prepare for the suicide mission and of the decisions you make during said mission, as many lives are literally on the line. It's possible to lose a lot of characters depending on how you play and that's the fun of it!
Breaking the game down into pieces, the intro was well done and did a great job of starting the sequel out and integrating your work and experience in the first game, and the ending sequence/level was incredible and finally accomplished what I wanted from the game all along. However, everything in between wasn't as amazing or ground-breaking save for a few cool bits here and there compared to the journey of Mass Effect 1. What's important however, is how successful Mass Effect 2 is at letting you make Shepard a true hero or not at all, depending on your decisions.
For diehard fans of the first Mass Effect, you may feel a sense of disappointment as Mass Effect 2 abandons many key RPG elements: picking up weapons, mods and armor and economy system of selling loot to buy new things, etc. The other big changes include the dropping of vehicular gameplay and a change to the ammo system, which is a shame because there were a lot of great battles and mission sequences involving the Mako in Mass Effect 1. As for the ammo, The new heat sink system doesn't serve its purpose and was an unnecessary change from the first game.
What did you think of Mass Effect 2 and how did it compare to the first? Share your thoughts on what you loved or didn't love about the sequel.
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