Around 2007 I started playing a game called “Mass Effect.” Developed by Bioware, it was essentially a space opera worthy of taking the title from Star Wars in terms of it’s scope, depth of characters, and wide imagination. As a game though, it had some flaws, and some doubts for how the story does expand into the future.
Well, consider the future expanded. “Mass Effect 2” came out back in January of 2010, and it honestly blew me away in terms of what it presented. To be honest, the first “Mass Effect” was good but really underwhelming because it had a lot to explain in terms of story and background. It was a great game that followed hallmarks from previous Bioware efforts, most notably “Jade Empire” and “Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.” “Mass Effect 2” improves on the formula ten-fold, and up’s the ante to where it might be difficult to top it, even with part three of this space opera trilogy.
I don’t want to say much about the story, and frankly others have pointed out that a good story in a Bioware game is like Mario finding 1up mushrooms, you know it will be good. This time around, Commander Sheppard is dead, for a few years at least. Caught off-guard by a group known as the Collectors, the good captain is killed, but resurrected by the good people of Cerberus, a seemingly criminal organization mentioned in the first Mass Effect game. The pro-human group, led by the Illusive Man, tasks you with building a team of exceptional people, humans and aliens alike, to take on the Collectors, who are targeting human colonies across the galaxy.
The scope of the game is still massive, but more tightened than the first game. For the most part, story missions take place in a ton of sections across the galaxy, from recruiting your tenacious twelve characters to fight the Collector menace, to doing support missions to gain their loyalty. And these loyalty missions are perhaps some of the best missions in the game, mainly because they offer so much character development with you and your team of seeming rivals that is offers a closer relationship with the characters than before.
And this is also important in a game function, since the characters can die permanently in the endgame. Depending on specific choices in the gameplay, you can lose one, or all, of your teammates in the final battle, something that can drastically change the outcome of the upcoming game, including which characters survive the so-called suicide mission, and if you die again.
The most talked about part of the game is the fact that you can import “Mass Effect” saves into “Mass Effect 2”, a feature that I don’t think has ever been implemented properly in a game series before. Doing this does add some bonuses and shapes the storyline based on your actions in the first game, and Bioware has also said this will continue in the third game, so definitely keep the saved games handy. If you start playing “Mass Effect 2” first, you can still get a seemingly random scenario that chooses certain aspects from the first game to, but I highly recommend importing, and playing, the first “Mass Effect” before starting this game up.
One of the cleaned up aspects is the weapons system, which is now based on one or two different types of guns per character and focuses more on upgrades for all the weapons, such as extra clips, more power and accuracy, and so forth. This gets rid of the tedious micro-managing of the first game and streamlines the combat a bit more, making it easier to just point and shoot in the scenario’s you end up in through your travels across the galaxy.
The only dark spot in the game is the annoying as all hell resource mining. While it is something you don’t have to do, doing so gets you these upgrades for your weapons, your squad mates abilities, and upgrades for the ship that are almost necessary to keep your team alive at the end of the game. It is a necessary tedium that has to be done for the best ending possible.
Honestly there is not much else. Gameplay wise everything is a bit smaller and in chunks, but work’s a lot better than the open world from before, where the worst enemy in the game could be the boredom from using the Mako to get everywhere. Your teams A.I works a bit better than in the first game, and the enemies are a pain in the ass to deal with sometimes, especially with the super-powered mechs you fight constantly, which can soak up a ton of ammo if you are not careful.
Graphically the game remains the same, although a lot of detail has been added in the three years since the previous title. The characters look more realistic, there is less graphical pop-up for in-game movies, and the uncanny valley is less noticeable. The worlds are still corridor like mazes and can still get repetitive in the long run, but that will likely be par for the course in the end.
Sound wise, the game is top notch. The score still has that other-worldy sound to it, coupled with orchestral music that makes John Williams likely blush. The sound effects are impressive and frantic, a step below the sonic ambiance that is “Call of Duty” but still very powerful. The game shines with the voice-acting again, and has added some decent celebrity talent, like the great Martian Sheen and Carrie-Anne Moss to the growing voice cast. Plus the original voices of past characters make an appearance in the game, some as squad members. I still find the male commander Shepherd to be sometimes a tad bland, but other than that the voice acting is amazing and shows how the game can be an interactive movie without being excessive with cut-scenes, like “Metal Gear Solid 4” was.
In the end, the dialogue options, smart story writing, gameplay enhancements and overall feel of the second leg of a trilogy pretty much catapult “Mass Effect 2” into a must have for the RPG savvy. The plot thickens and the action heats up, and chances are the stakes will be just as high in “Mass Effect 3” which I hope ends the trilogy in the most dramatic and operatic way possible. But definitely play the games in order, because the experience of doing so is amazing.
Final Score- A-