11 July 2010

Mass Effect 2 Review

I decided to get Mass Effect 2 the other day, mainly because I really liked Mass Effect. I was waiting out the price drops and so forth so I could grab it cheaper than the $100 they want to charge here in Australia.

I must say, I'm quite pleased with the result. Unfortunately my profiles were lost last time I reformatted my machine, so I didn't have the option of playing through as one of my previous characters. This didn't matter much, although some interactions are changed due to not having a frame of reference to what you did in the first one.

The game is similar, but there's been some quite big changes to the morality & leveling system. The most notable changes are that you no longer decrease Paragon with Renegade choices, and vice versa. This is quite welcome as with Mass Effect you had to be very careful what you said or you would end up cancelling out previous work. While it is recommended that you focus on one, it is not necessary. The leveling system has done away with making the powers tiered (to a degree), and now gives you two options when you have maxed out one power/skill.

It seems that with one hand they giveth, and the other they take away. Gone are the horrible Mako (the bounciest vehicle in the universe) missions and single scan of planets. You now scan planets in a sonar style interface to recover minerals that can be used to upgrade your character & squad members' armour, weapons, biotic/tech skills and even the ship. The new system removes all inventory in favour of standardised weapons & armour with upgrades such as damage, shield penetration, range, health increase, shield size, etc. While the planet scanning was quite boring, it was much less frustrating than landing on a planet only to find you and your team didn't have the necessary skills to decrypt/analyse something. After a few upgrades it becomes easier allowing for more probes and faster scanning. The hacking system has changed too, no longer relying on skill points but on your own knowledge of how the hack works. The "mini-games" are much smoother and more enjoyable to do - whether it's rewiring a circuit board or finding code snippets, much less frustration than in Mass Effect.

I can see they tried their hardest to remove what was complained about while enhancing what was great about the first game. The combat is more of an on rails cover shooter, which I don't really have a problem with as it has been implemented quite well, although I did have some frustrations due to the run/interact/cover being the same key (space bar in PC). I died quite a few times because I took cover in front of something while stealthed and became unstealthed with 4 or 5 enemies around me.

Now that we've got the gameplay out of the way, I want to write about the plot. This is a biggie, and Bioware haven't held back at all. The first Mass Effect had a solid plot that really drove gameplay and the sequel has continued, and dare I say it, improved on the narrative that the previous game gave us. Sure, there's a few cheesy parts, but I think that's what makes the plot so good. Bioware know when to add in cheesiness to get the right Sci-Fi feel to it. It's got the same driven feel as Star Trek and the likes.

I personally think there's bigger morality choices in Mass Effect 2 than in the first game, really challenging your concept of right and wrong. To the level of raising some interesting questions - is it "racist" (speciest?)to enforce our concept of right and wrong as humans on other species? The whole plot culminates in a massive morality choice at the end, leaving you questioning yourself and your decisions. No spoilers, but you really need to play all the way through to have a true understanding of where Bioware wanted to go with this.

All in all the game feels very much like an interactive film that's broken up with combat sequences. The driven plot, well written dialogue, and smattering of Hollywood actors (Martin Sheen, Seth Green, Carrie-Anne Moss, to name a few) does really make me feel that Mass Effect & Mass Effect 2 go beyond the concept of an RPG to give us a blend of film, shooter, RPG and philosophical exploration.

I am about to do a second play through using the same character to level her even further. Although my fiancée may get the shits with my "militant lesbian" character (she seems to think this is a fantasy of mine, I have no idea what she's talking about). The only misgiving I have about the 2nd play through is that you cannot change your class at all. Big bummer, but I suppose I can always roll a new class later.

All in all I am quite impressed with the game and would recommend it for any RPG fan who wants a bit more action in your RPG. One thing I will say is that this is NOT a kids' game. The concepts will go over their heads and all you'll get is a foul mouthed child from it.

Available now for Xbox 360 & PC.


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