With a huge marketing push thanks to adverts almost everywhere, it was clear that no self-respecting gamer would miss out on the hype surrounding Mass Effect 2. The original 2007 sci-fi role-playing-game turned a lot of heads, but was ultimately disappointing due to the clear flaws in technicalities, such as texture loading and low frame rate. Fortunately, Mass Effect 2 is much improved on its predecessor in a number of areas.
The key of any role-playing title is the storyline progression. Mass Effect 2 starts almost straight after the original game with a powerful opening event which is critical in setting the stage for the entire game. Without revealing any spoilers, protagonist Shepard, willingly or not, joins a group named Cerberus, who’s leader, The Illusive Man, assures that you are the only hope for the human race, with colonies disappearing at the hand of a mysterious enemy. Without going into too much detail, the opening sequence allows for new players to customise their character to how they desire in gender, facial features and class.
For those that have played and finished Mass Effect, they will have the option to import their character and the decisions they made in the original game, to the new story. The effect of doing this contributes to the plot in surprising depth. The information taken into account includes what experience level the game ended at, whether Paragon or Renegade is more affiliated and more importantly, which characters had lived or passed through your actions. If imported, the Galaxy is shaped with very little input at the start of the game. On the other hand, once the plot begins to unravel subtle – but key – questions are asked of Shepard to determine what the player wants to have happen as a consequence of the events in Mass Effect. For both new players and those that want to tweak their world, this offers an accessible and sensible way for players to become familiar with what happens at the games opening.
What has been made clear in various trailers and the broad advertisements is that some portion of the game requires the collection of specialist personnel in order to tackle this threat to humanity. In fact this takes up most of the game, keeping the ‘suicide mission’ in secrecy until the time is right. There is a long list of various characters and personalities for the player to pick and choose from, the hard part being actually finding the individuals and persuading them to join the team.
There are three main areas which you can travel to on the world map, all with a vast city-like structure, including the space station Citadel. The populated areas are small, but suitable for what is required of them. These locations host the interactive non-player characters, shops with research upgrades to purchase for weapons, armour and your ship, and minor assignments or side missions. The large missions never take place within these locations, but are placed as a linear offset, with apt loading screens depicting direction of travel, rather than the famous elevator sequences. The ship is the main hub for the entire game. It holds all of the crew, teammates, and allied recruits that you have picked up from across the galaxy.
Since a large sum of the game is set finding key characters for the squad, each of them have been really fleshed out and have unique personalities. Should the recruitment process be successful loyalty missions are asked of Shepard, helping to resolve personal matters, looking into the history, and what has brought the characters to what they are. The quests are not necessarily combat based, some may not have any at all.
Conversation and problem resolution plays the other half of the Mass Effect experience. Paragon and Renegade are the two extremes of the approach that can be Shepard. In any talk, whether it is with a love interest or someone holding a gun to your head, there are plenty of options with everything in between the two persuasions. In Mass Effect 2 there are added interrupts that can totally change the direction. Assigned to the two triggers if an approach isn’t going as planned, a pop up appears should a Paragon or Renegade resolution appeal to the situation. The conversations arguably have the most significant effect on the game. Whether you hit the Batarian on the head with the wrench or not can have a massive outcome, and as the player it is both unpredictable and terribly exciting.
An armoury, wardrobe and research station are onboard for that important change in equipment. The wardrobe allows for Shepard to be outfitted in whatever the player think suits. Casual clothes and armour are available to buy from shops in market areas, or to download from the Cerberus Network; the feature which hosts downloadable content, requiring a code, and designed to encourage new game sales. Upgrades for armour and weapons are made possible by the collection of elements both on the surface and through the vehicle exploration of the galaxy.
The ship is available to roam the game world, orbiting planets, searching for ‘anomalies’ or distress calls (providing short side missions), and collecting 4 chemical elements necessary for the research. The surface transporter, Mako, has been scrapped and replaced by a drop-off shuttle, should there be somewhere to land. By scanning the planet and launching probes to collect any material that is found, quantities of Element Zero, Iridium, Palladium, and Platinum can be gathered and then used at a research station. Hours can be sucked into the quest for more and more of each item; a process that can become quite addictive. Experience is gained after each mission or assignment, no matter how small, and with each level points can be added to upgrade powers and abilities.
When each is fully upgraded there is a choice between two specialties, often just a choice between a stronger or more widespread attack. The armoury holds the weaponry of the game, split into expanded catagories such as machine pistol and heavy pistol. It is never made possible to buy weapons at any part of the game; instead there are just a small number of weapons available to collect out in the field, or to be given to you during the course of the game. Other loot can be found by hacking wall safes or bypassing doors, both introducing a new mini game – matching up nodes on a circuit board, and matching segments of code on a scrolling screen. These offer just the right of challenge to begin with, but lack of variation makes them a trivial task by the end stretches of the game, especially when most of them just offer credits.
The combat is much more action orientated, like a shooter, than in its predecessor. If the role playing elements have been reduced, then the encounters have been honed. Cover is more of a critical factor and there is much more of a tactical approach placed on powers and ammo types. As there is no direct control of teammates, the radial wheel comes into function for Shepard to command the use of available powers on selected enemies or (often explosive) objects. This is great as it also pauses the game for an overview of the situation and allows for the biotic powers, such as pull or push, to be quite precise. The directional pad can be used to direct the two squad members to take cover separately, a useful override if the AI isn’t doing exactly what you had planned. For Shepard, health is regained by sitting behind cover. The Mass Effect medi-gel can now only be used to revive the two teammates that are chosen to bring on the mission, should they fall in battle. The broader range of weapons no longer overheat, but instead they all use universal heat-sink ammo that needs to be ejected. All of this streamlines the combat, making it much simpler and action focused.
The majority of the enemies are from one of the three mercenary organisations, which seem to be a major player in the game from being non-existent in Mass Effect. Blue Suns, Blood Pack, and Eclipse have most of the races in their ranks, including an army of robot ‘mechs’ and provide most of the opposition when recruiting the team. Also present are the Collectors, notable from Mass Effect downloadable content, and the Geth also have a minor presence. The many different angles in the game can also have an effect on combat situations, such as re-programming mechs to work against the enemy, a quirky touch by the developers.
The scope of different characters in the game is what sets the Mass Effect universe apart from any other in the science fiction genre. Although Mass Effect 2 has less of an open world feel to it and more like a series of linked linear areas, it does not take away from the scope of the universe ahead. The end portion of the game is shrouded in mystery until the player decides to jump in, and provides a heart racing climax to the paced storyline. The statistic tracking and other role playing features might have been toned down for the sequel, but Bioware has definitely improved the depth in each of the characters and the game world. With just enough fiction and role-playing to satisfy the fan, and plenty of emphasis on tactical combat, there is plenty in this game to satisfy all parties.
Mass Effect 2 has made significant improvements in regards to presentation, with a wealthy bank of smooth animations for each of the characters and the game looking graphically superior than the original from the offset. Problems that haunted Mass Effect have almost been eradicated, with only one or two instances of sluggish frame rates and texture loading in the many hours spent exploring the galaxy. With that many options the game is as shallow or deep as the player wants to make it, with more than 35 hours of gameplay on offer for those wanting to see it.
Mass Effect 2 arguably could be the most improved video game sequel ever and if not, it is a seriously satisfying, engaging and most importantly, fun game in any case.