Bioware’s Mass Effect 2 has finally arrived at retail. It was a long wait for fans of the first, but how does this sequel stack up? Well, with Mass Effect 2, Bioware has succeeded where so many others have failed. When it comes to entertainment, any time a product is a success, be it a film, book or video game there is bound to be a sequel. The problem is these follow up efforts are, more often than not, a bit worse than the originals. That is not the case with Mass Effect 2; this game gets rid of all the annoyances of the first title, while keeping and improving all the good stuff.
I will be making many comparisons against the first Mass Effect, but if you’re worried that you need to play the first game to enjoy this one; don’t be. Of course you are more likely to care about the characters right from the start if you have, but Mass Effect 2 does a nice job of integrating elements from the first title without making it mandatory that you played through it.
What Bioware has managed to do with Mass Effect 2 is deliver what may be called the first true role playing experience in video game history. Most games that get lumped into the RPG genre aren’t really role playing games at all. Take the Final Fantasy games for instance; in FF X, you control Tidus, but did you ever really have control over the story or any given situation? Not really, aside from the combat, you are simply along for the ride. The story is going to play out in exactly the same way every time because you don’t really have any choices in the game; you can’t get into the role of Tidus and have him make varying decisions. Role playing in the traditional video gaming sense seems synonymous with item collection and management. With Mass Effect though, you do have that deeper level of control. Commander Shepard can be a saint, a complete jackass or something in between depending on the choices you make throughout the game. These decisions will have real consequence as well.
In some games, you might get a different piece of dialogue depending on a choice you make, but in ME 2, the ramifications can run much deeper. Characters can be killed off or left behind, completely eliminating or changing your missions. The choices you make may offer up even more decisions that keep branching and changing the scenario; the sheer number of choices available in the game makes it unlikely that you and any of your friends have exactly the same experience when playing.
Mass Effect 2 features a strong cast of characters and they each have their own unique backgrounds. You can explore these characters and forge relationships to any degree you want. You can completely ignore a character or get very close and potentially intimate. By chatting with characters in the game world you will open up rich side missions and discussions. You will face tough moral decisions along the way; several times you will have to choose between your mission objectives or the well being of an individual or group, perhaps even someone in your squad.
The conversation and role playing portions of the game are complimented nicely by the vastly improved combat system. The power wheel is back from the first game allowing you to pause the action while you select which special powers Shepard and the squad will use. The biotic powers are a blast to play around with and can be combined with other abilities to chain effects together. Each class has unique abilities that allow for nearly any type of player to find something they like.
The clunky item and inventory management system from the first game has been completely discarded, as has the exploration of lifeless, rocky planets. Instead, weapons and armor loadouts are the only items you’ll need to worry about and the planets you visit are interesting and have real quests to chase after. You will need to scan planets for resources in order to purchase various upgrades in the game and this part can become tedious rather quickly, but it is much better than wandering around a barren, rock-filled landscape for thirty minutes like the first game.
The long elevator rides from before have also been removed. You now have a standard load screen and load times can be admittedly lengthy. However, installing the game to the 360 hard drive helps quite a bit here. It does take up a beefy 12GB, but if you have the space to spare, I highly recommend doing so; you can always delete it when you’re finished anyway. Just note that you will need to install both discs if choosing this option.
The original Mass Effect was a great game, but it was hampered by technical issues and a convoluted inventory system. The framerate would drop dramatically during heavy action sequences and trying to navigate the menus to equip various armor and upgrades was about as much fun as going snorkeling in a city sewage system. Now though, those issues have been sorted out and the end result is a magnificent game that delivers the most personalized story in the history of the industry. Where ME 1 was clunky and awkward, ME 2 is streamlined and intuitive. Where ME 1 was monotonous and bland, ME 2 is alive and interesting. Where ME 1 was buggy and fragile, ME 2 is robust and solid; it’s just a big improvement in every area and is definitely worth purchasing for any 360 or PC gamer.