Mass Effect 2 – Review

Commander Shepard is joined by some new faces in Mass Effect 2.

I jumped into Mass Effect 2 right after completing Mass Effect and its DLC packs. I was late to the party on Mass Effect, but I enjoyed it immensely nonetheless. Mass Effect 2 provides many changes to the formula set up in Mass Effect and many of these changes were to aspects that I enjoyed in Mass Effect. Mass Effect 2 has forsaken much of the role-playing aspects from Mass Effect, for example loot. I enjoy the constant quest for better gear in games, so the removal of this, and other concepts turned me off initially, but in the end, provided for a more efficient adventure. Overall, BioWare has shifted some focus away from the RPG aspects of Mass Effect and made Mass Effect 2 a much better action game and a better game in general.

When I traveled between planets in Mass Effect, I either knew exactly where I wanted to go or I was just exploring. If I was completing a mission I’d make sure I knew the star cluster, the star system and finally which planet, sometimes I’d even keep a pen and paper handy to keep track of everywhere I needed to go. Mass Effect 2 has simplified this process; whenever you enter the galaxy map, icons related to your missions point out where you go until you’re finally at your destination and the actual travel in the galaxy map is handled slightly differently as well, which I prefer over Mass Effect’s.

When completing missions in Mass Effect, I’d land on the planet I needed to be on and first off, check the map, locating the closest object and going for it, whether it is a mineral, some loot, or where I needed to be for the mission. When I’d get planet side in Mass Effect I’d feel compelled to explore it, before tackling the mission. In Mass Effect 2, they’ve taken this sort of exploration out; instead when you land on a planet, you go straight into the mission or colony if it’s a location akin to the Citadel. This creates a more straight forward approach to the missions, and the game in general; it felt significantly more closed off. Personally I enjoyed exploring planets and scavenging for loot in Mass Effect, but I also appreciate the structure that Mass Effect 2 presents, I was able to get exactly where I needed to be without hassle.

Tali battles alongside Commander Shepard.

Tied into the scaling back of exploration is the removal of loot. Instead of stumbling upon hundreds of weapons and various equipment that are unique primarily because of their stats, Mass Effect 2 has simplified all this by allowing access only to a handful of different weapons. New to Mass Effect 2 is the upgrade system. On the Normandy is a research station where you spend minerals to produce upgrades, either found while on missions or bought from stores. In Mass Effect, minerals were found by mining them planet side, now that landing on planets is removed, minerals are received from scanning planets in the galaxy map, which turned out to be a fun, fairly mindless, way to spend some time.

Mass Effect 2 is much more competent as an action game than Mass Effect was. First off, Mass Effect 2 does a better job of integrating biotic and tech abilities into the combat. In Mass Effect, I don’t remember using my allies’ abilities as much as I do in Mass Effect 2. Whenever I’m in a firefight, I use my squad’s abilities as often as possible. Of interest is the ability to combine effects to create more powerful reactions, in some ways shaping who I decided to take along with me on missions. Instead of having infinite ammo and overheating, weapons must now be reloaded; which didn’t really change the way I played; I never had a problem running out of ammo as enemies dropped it quite frequently and I had plenty of weapons or abilities if needed. As was the case in Mass Effect, the squad Shepard leads in Mass Effect 2 is diverse, both personality-wise and ability-wise, only more so this time around. Every character seems more developed, and more differentiated then the cast of Mass Effect.

While I don’t want to spoil much as it has a phenomenal story, I will say that Mass Effect 2 opens with a bang, surprising myself and everyone else as I recall when it originally came out. The opening paves the way for the story in Mass Effect 2 to come from a different angle then in Mass Effect. The overall objective of the game seems like a suicide mission, but the way I handled it, everything turned out satisfactorily. In Mass Effect, there was an enemy to target and something to qualify as an end, taking out the rogue Spectre, Saren Arterius. Mass Effect 2 doesn’t have that sort of singular enemy threat, leading to a feeling of lack of accomplishment upon reflection. I definitely completed what I set out to do at the onset of Mass Effect 2, but it feels like an insurmountable task, still, to defeat the Reaper threat in Mass Effect 3, which makes me want Mass Effect 3 even more to see how this series is resolved. Regardless Mass Effect 2 was an exceptional adventure and I discuss it often with others who have played through it, it’s a fun game to talk about.

Mass Effect 2 got of rid many of the things I enjoyed about Mass Effect, but I still came away liking Mass Effect 2 more. The game is still an RPG, and it’s still a third-person shooter, BioWare has emphasized the action more in Mass Effect 2 and as a result, it’s a much better action game. While I loved the exploration and the RPG aspects of Mass Effect, I think the simplification of these mechanics made Mass Effect 2 an improved game over its predecessor. I could write another thousand words about Mass Effect 2 but at this point it’s clear: Mass Effect was terrific, and one of my favorite video games, Mass Effect 2 is even better, and I can’t wait to play Mass Effect 3.

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3 thoughts on “Mass Effect 2 – Review”

  1. I have to agree, there are a number of things that Mass Effect 2 streamlined, but for me there were a few things deliberately ignored that although made made the less clunky and streamlined gameplay feel like it was made too much of that iconic storytelling third person shooter has leaked over into the game.

    Originally, I heard from another big Mass Effect fan, the first Mass Effect was going to have both the overheating system and the clips, but someone at Bioware said it would be too clunky, and difficult for the player to understand.
    I don’t have any proof of this, but obviously if they could use one, there could be both. But obviously the clips are far more effective, except for on the higher difficulties there isn’t enough ammo for specific weapons, and I’m a pretty good shot.

    Which partially leads me to my second wonder about the game. Why there was so much continuity that was unexplained, or ignored. I don’t have any deliberate examples down, but I was a huge fan of the storyline, and despite a lot of things that happened, a few things came up that bugged me. Worse yet, I played Mass Effect 1 and 2 nearly back to back for these things to kind of show themselves, because I had to replay the choices my Shephard had in Mass Effect from the 360 version.

    Again, while I prefer the gameplay of Mass Effect 2, before playing my brother said something I wish I wouldn’t have heard. I believe it was commenting on the gameplay, but more importantly, it was on how a general consensus was each level felt a lot like a hallway, where there were branches, but only forward to an end. While the summary screen helps some, I think the only thing they didn’t do was put a slash to denote what amount of total money you missed from. I don’t think the Cerberus mission summary suited the game much at all. It was like a score screen from Contra or something else equally simple.

    Also, while I do enjoy their fun adaptations, and the ability to have star maps actually chart, instead of little dots on a giant map, and everything is very easily unconfused, I personally almost prefer the smaller amount of planets and exploration on the Mako to the tedium of the planet scanning. The landing missions on various planets in Mass Effect 1 also felt like you were finding something by chance of actual orbit scanning and landing. Where as on Mass Effect 2 you find a blip and then tune into it. The technology for that seems a bit backwards for a more advanced ship, with an AI, with a company that has so much money to spend.
    In fact we have technology now that trumps some of the technology in the game, which makes me think the creators did half of the work that the original people did on the game.
    Even still, I think a mix up of some of the missions would be appreciated, the planet scanning just got so terribly boring after doing it the 50th time I stopped, and just decided to save the points up for a team I wanted to keep well buffed. Which even on hard didn’t seem much of a challenge.

    Like I said, I appreciated the gameplay of Mass Effect 2 far more than Mass Effect 1, better animation, Shepard, a trained military soldier can actually RUN now for more than 4 seconds at a time, the biotics and tech are actually just as useful as the last game, and more useful if you count stacking them. But…

    I can’t help but feel the game was dumbed down, now I won’t say for console, but I will say that the gameplay was far less smooth on the 360 ME then on the computer. Assigning the buttons to attacks made it as simple as pressing a few keys to disable and destroy an entire Krogan attack force on the PC, perhaps why they limited the amount of abilities and skills to one at a time while one recharges, but the game literally has several instances where a good FPS player can complete a whole section without skills, and only because of the GoW-ish cover system. Despite everything, even in the new games, the most inventive thing they came up with was the holo drones. Whereas technology to make automotive walking assault mechs kind of downsizes from the whole point of the third person shooter effect they make.

    Which kind of leads me into my final. In the end, I can’t help but feel they most of all, brutally stepped on what tiptoeing around your squadmates was like. It’s far too easy now to walk in and follow an almost routine way of talking to each one, and I really vocally reacted when I saw how you can walk in, and click “I want to talk” and proceed with happy comments and for most anyone, except for the romance characters, you can get them to have positive reactions just by saying positive things. Even the brutal Grunt can be brought to a more positive light through some comments. As far as depth of character development, I did enjoy their idea to create many many more paragon and renegade movements, but the fact that each character feels like a completed ‘level’ rather than a plot to develop more about them made me unnerved, capped off with loyalty missions. But out of everything I didn’t expect, the choices given were rarely morally grey, despite the one in Mass Effect with Kaidan or Ashley, well, it was obvious very few people liked Ashley, but she was really dead there. The difficult positions were led out in some areas, and in others, you were the only thing that made things obviously black and white. No single crew member can survive, and most of the time, the choice is left to you. That’s kind of predictive storyline.

    All in all, I would say I really enjoyed Mass Effect, and Mass Effect 2, for sure, but there are several things, and reasons why I can completely understand people being angry about Mass Effect 2, and hopes for Mass Effect 3. Mass Effect 2 does seem more streamlined, and for that, it is applaudable, Mass Effect needed streamlining. But I come back to a situation where a game CAN be upgraded simply and for the benefit of the next game with no hitches (TF>TF2, Diablo>Diablo 2, Zone of the Enders>Zone of the Enders 2), and I don’t know if this is EA coming in again to do how they wish, or if the game designers thought that the whole redesigning the game so even kids could get into it was the point, but the game does seem aimed at people who couldn’t otherwise understand what subtleties came with the first game, and removing much freedom in the game world kind of makes me wonder what Dragon Age 2 will be like in preview. I’m hoping that the characters won’t be cut in half, and further that we can have the situations where we get items to come back to dungeons or forests and give them to the right person for an untold reward will be.

    Just hoping Mass Effect 3 doesn’t complete the 180 degree turn for the game. We already have far too many action games with an RPG-ish structure to add depth to a game which has very little.
    I don’t want to see Mass Effect 3 turn into the next Call of Duty, or Medal of Honor.

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  2. Wow, that is a heck of a comment!

    Regarding Mass Effect 3 completing the 180 degree turn and becoming more of action title and losing even more RPG elements, I hope it doesn’t as well.

    I think Mass Effect 2 proved a good middle ground, containing enough elements of each to keep it balanced, which makes me hope that they simply fix minor elements in ME3 instead of redesigning nearly everything, again.

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