A follow up to the immensely popular Mass Effect, Mass Effect 2 is the next chapter in the story, taking place soon after the events of Mass Effect. BioWare hit a bullseye with the first Mass Effect title but there was still plenty of room for improvement. They seem to have been listening to feedback from the fans and incorporated it into the new game.
"Back in the saddle"
The player takes on the role of Commander Shepard once again with the option to import his or her saved game from the first Mass effect, preserving the story decisions and customizations from the original game.The game does still permit some flexibility to make minor changes to Shepard\'s backstory and appearance within the context of the story. Importing a character is definitely encouraged, with bonus resources awarded to the player for doing so. As much of a pain as it can be to accumulate resources (more on that below) this is a huge benefit.
Like the first Mass Effect, this game is an over-the shoulder tactical combat game and roleplaying game mixed together. The player directly controls Commander Shepard and can give commands to the other two members of the unit in order to win tactical engagements. Winning battles and completing quests rewards the player with experience points which are used to gain levels for Shepard and for his crewmates.
What they got right:
-"This assault rifle isn\'t hacking it. Somebody pass me that rocket launcher."
Shepard now also gets heavy weapons to add to the inventory, and there are several to choose from (individually acquired over the course of the game). This fills a very glaring gap in Shepard\'s arsenal and presents even more tactical options. This also replaces the old thrown grenade system.
-"You know, I bet I can chamber that rifle shoot way bigger rounds..."Gone is the complex and awkward menu system allowing the player to choose individual upgrades and loadouts for the crew members. All upgrades are now universal and once paid for, apply to all related weapons and equipment for all characters. Upgrades are performed aboard the ship between missions and even the ship itself can be upgraded.
-"The black armor is slimming."
Shepard\'s attire on the ship and the armor worn on missions can be customized to suit individual taste. The armor can be customized as often as the player likes and does not change with upgrades. Patterns are limited, but the color options offer a decent range.
-"Oh boy! I have to hack this!" The mini-games have been changed from simple reaction games to a memory game for hacking controls and a matching game for hacking computers and terminals. The games are a bit easier and more fun, but if the player is unsuccessful there\'s no shortcutting through the use of omni-gel, which does not exist in this game.
Gone is the old mechanism limiting how many shots could be fired in a burst due to weapon overheating, replaced now by a more conventional ammunition mechanic where ammo clips are universal to all ballistic firearm types. This is explained in-game by calling them disposeable heat sinks. It\'s nice not to have to deal with the annoyance of an overheated gun, but with ammunition drops so generous from slain enemies the need to reload at all becomes more of a nuisance than an enhancement to gameplay.
-"Scan the planet for.... whatever you can find, Lieutenant."
Equipment and ship upgrades are paid for using a variety of minerals and material that has to be mined on the various worlds in the galaxy. This is done by moving a scanning reticle around the surface of the planet and listening for a change in tone indicating the presence of resources. Once the player has found the strongest signal, a probe can be launched to gather the resources. This mini game is oddly addictive at first, but with mining being the primary source of the resources needed for upgrading the ship and equipment, it becomes a chore. A tedious, painful chore. Resources can also be acquired by opening containers during missions but the quantity found this way isn\'t enough for the really useful or higher level upgrades.
-"Soldier or Vanguard... hmmm..." Like the original, this game allows the player to choose Shepard\'s class, enabling him (or her) to be everything from a soldier to a biotic commando. (Biotics are a sort of psychic power posessed by some in the Mass Effect universe that provide a variety of combat-related powers and can be ehnanced with technology.) That means the classes are constrained to the same set of classes from the original game, with the difference between the varied classes not always clear. The classes were (and are) structured around a mix of the three main attributes posessed by each character: Combat, Tech and Biotic. A more flexible system would have been nice, allowing the player to chreate his or her own blend of abilities to suit play style.
The Mako missions are gone. In the previous game, Shepard could take a team and land on a planet with a 6-heeled ground vehicle to explore, fight and move from location to location on the surface. Now when Shepard needs to deploy a team to the planet they simply fly down in a shuttlecraft which is just the transition animation. No actual gameplay involves the shuttle. BioWare has indicated that this was a result of player feedback, but I enjoyed the Mako missions. They gave the game a sense of variety that doesn\'t exist in the new game, which seems a little flatter.
-"Sure it\'s fast, but gets terrible mileage."
Also added to the game is a new game mechanic where the Normandy expends fuel when flying between worlds in a star system. Fuel needs to be replenished at fueling stations and is purchased by the player. The ship expends no fuel traveling between sectors or systems, only within a solar system. It\'s unclear how this enhances the game, and seems to be another nuisance.
-"What do you mean we\'re out of probes?"
Like fuel, probes for gathering resources must be purchased at the fuel stations. This makes an already tedious process even more complex.
-"Would it have helped if I\'d brought flowers?"
When Shepard meets with some of the characters from the past game, the dialogue with them is oddly limited and leaves out many options for conversation one would have expected to be present. It is here that the story guardrails are most obvious.
"Meanwhile, back at the ranch..."
As with the previous game, Shepard is assembling a crew to accomplish the overall mission, but must also complete secondary quests for each character to secure their loyalty. Some of the crew from the old Normandy have returned but not all, as severl characters from the previous game have moved on to other things. The new crew is also larger than the old, and with more options for missions. Each crewmember\'s appearance can be changed to an alternate color scheme after their loyalty side quest is complete.
"Sure it sounds fun, but how does it look?"
The graphics are excellent, with the quality slightly improved over the original Mass Effect, especially with the "popping" problem that was very distracting in the first game. The backgrounds and settings are unique and beautiful and are very successful at conveying the feel of being on alien worlds with different characteristics and cultures. Some of the animations of character movement could still use a little work as they don\'t yet quite convey a completely convincing lifelike range of motion.
"Should I bother turning the volume up?"
As with Mass Effect, the music in this game is superb, and sets the tone beautifully. Some selections from the soundtrack from the first game can be played in a small device in Shepard\'s personal quarters aboard the Normandy. The voice actors from the original game have reprised their roles and the direction and performances are very good. Sadly, the hauntinly beautiful Ilos theme (Also heard in the menu screen in the iroginal) is absent.
"Did my system just crash?"
No glitches or issues were noticed and there was never any lag.
The controls are basically the same as with the original Mass Effect, with some changes to the game play affecting the control layout. For example, the player can no longer throw grenades, so the appropriate button has been remapped. Some of the combat elements have been smoothed out and adjusted, making battles flow more smoothly and intuitavely. Shepard ducks behind cover more smoothly although it is still a bit too easy to go into cover accidentally when running past walls or obstacles that can be used for cover.
The battle sequences are no more or less violent than the game\'s predecessor, with very little visible blood spilled although many enemies are shot and killed or defeated through explosive forece. Enemies come in all forms, being alien, robotic and human. There\'s only one way to defeat them in battle, and that\'s to kill them.
The laguage in this game includes the complete set of common expletives and is not appropriate for kids. The profanity is noticeably more prolific and really adds nothing to the story.
While there\'s no occultism per se, the game does start of with the main character being scientifically resurrected from the dead after being killed in the introductory cutscene.
The game handles morality and ethics in the same way as the first game: Let the player decide. Shepard is as heroic or roguish as the player chooses to be, and there isn\'t much encouragement by the game one way or the other. Dialog options and reputation are influenced by the character\'s alignment, but the game can be completed even at either extreme. Options exist for everyting to heoic effort to save lives to cold-blooded killing.