Mass Effect 2 review
I’m Commander Stu Shepard and this is my new favourite game on the PC. Guess I just gave away the ending of this review, huh…
Regular readers* will know the original Mass Effect was my pick for game of the decade and I know I wasn’t the only one eagerly looking forward to the next installment. That’s a lot of pressure, so have Bioware cracked or have the delivered?
Relax people, they’ve delivered.
Mass Effect 2 picks up a short while after the end of the first game and there’s a new menace in the galaxy. A species known as the Collectors are attacking human settlements and it’s fallen to Commander Shepard to assemble his or her team and put a stop to it. I won’t go into detail, but the story is involving and fans of the first game won’t be disappointed.
As promised, choices you made in the original game carry over. They don’t really affect the main plot but it’s a great touch. You did keep your save games, right?
Most of the missions in this game focus on recruiting your team and gaining their loyalty. You’ll have the opportunity to recruit 11 people to your team (one of whom you’ll have to download through the Cerberus Network), recruiting each one involves a mission (usually substantial) and then gaining the loyalty of each involves another mission (some more substantial than others).
That combined with tracking down leads on the Collectors will take up a big chunk of your time so there isn’t quite as much cruising around the galaxy on side quests as there was in the first game. This isn’t such a bad thing, because the side quests you do get are much better executed than the first game. They all have a unique setting – gone are the generic science facilities, mines and freighters of the first game. There’s some nice variation in their objectives too since they don’t all involve combat. Some are observation and conversation based and others involve simple problem solving.
Completion took me a generous 50 hours on my first play through, part of the reason this review has been a week in the making.
Visually the game is stunning. A lot of work has been done ensuring that characters look better close up. Bioware have been talking up their new lighting design and it delivers – lighting and environments are moody / imposing / beautiful as required. Sound design is brilliant as well and the PC version seems thankfully free of the audio bugs that plagued the first game**.
The cast Bioware have chosen to voice the game is impressive. Martin Sheen as the Illusive Man is the biggest name, but I know most people will be just as excited by the inclusion of Tricia Helfer or Seth Green’s return. Some of the other big sci-fi names only get small parts (Adam Baldwin and Michael Dorn, for instance) but it was nice of them to come along.
So far so good – Mass Effect 2 has taken the good points of the original game, evolved them and expanded on them. But it’s the ways the game differs from the original that make it really interesting.
Combat is probably the biggest change. Ammo is still “unlimited” but heat sinks in your weapons need to be replaced regularly and if you run out of them you can’t shoot. In my first play through (as a soldier, on veteran difficulty) I never found myself running all the way out though there were plenty of times when I’d run my assault and sniper rifles dry and I had to resort to my less-favoured weapons. Why, if heat sinks are universal, you can’t transfer them between guns I’m not sure but I don’t wanna be a convention nit or anything so I’ll just assume magic and / or the Geth wizard heretics are to blame.
Weapon selection in Mass Effect 2 has been streamlined. There are only a few variants of each type of weapon and you research upgrades to improve them. The variants really are different too. For example you can get one assault rifle that works like a standard machine gun, another that fires accurately in bursts (my favourite) and a big bugger of a thing that sprays bullets everywhere (largely useless but amusing none the less).
In addition, Shepard can choose from a variety of heavy weapons. These weapons take power cells, not heat sinks, so their ammunition is limited. To be honest I didn’t really use them a lot but they can be fun and there’s a few situations where they come in handy. It’s possible they’re more useful to the non-soldier classes too, maybe Matt can confirm.
Changes to the weapons system means inventory management is a thing of the past. Once you’ve acquired a gun the Normandy’s armory can copy it so you can give one to anyone in your squad. So every time you pick your squad for a mission, you just select the weapons everybody is going to carry and then go about your business.
Armour has gone much the same way. Shepard has one basic suit for the whole game, which you can customise with various add-ons and fancy paint jobs. You can’t change your squad mates’ armour so gone is the hassle of trying to find something in Tali’s size that isn’t useless / bright pink.
Health as we knew it in the original game is gone too. It’s been replaced by the standard Halo “take cover and recover” system so medi gel only gets used when you fire up the Unity power to revive a fallen squad member. The cover system has been greatly improved, you can direct your squad mates much more easily and all round combat is a lot of fun. This is a good thing because you’ll be doing a lot of it. There’s a bunch of new tech and biotic powers to play with as well including combat drones, cloaking systems and the fun new biotic Pull power, an evolution of Lift from the first game which sends enemies cartwheeling across the battlefield. Good times.
Downsides? There aren’t a lot. The original game’s Mako has been replaced by a mini-game where you have to manually scan a planet’s surface and fire probes at anything interesting you find. Those who wanted the Mako replaced because driving it around a planet’s surface was tedious probably won’t be impressed with its replacement.
Having to fuel the Normandy seemed a little pointless but I guess you’ve gotta have something to spend your credits on. Another thing that I did find a little silly was the number of minor characters from the first game that turned up. You’ll come across many of them in your missions and those that you don’t will probably e-mail you updates on their lives or Viagra spam (not kidding about that one). I can see what Bioware were going for but I found it a bit over the top.
Overall, I fucking love this game. How much do I love it, you ask? I haven’t played online poker since I got my hands on it, that’s how fucking much. I dunno if I can give anything a more ringing endorsement than that.
Pros: Epic, involving story, fantastic visuals and sound, quality voice acting, improved combat. Integration with the first game is almost seamless, there’s a lot of play in the standard game and there’s the promise of loads of DLC to come. Plus Mordin is fucking hilarious.
Cons: Only minor ones. Scanning planets for resources gets a bit tedious and I didn’t really need to see a summary explaining what credits were every time I picked some up.
Overall: Although the hardcore RPG fans might be a little annoyed with the game’s streamlining, the complete package is so amazing that you’ll forgive BioWare instantly. While no game is ever perfect, Mass Effect 2 comes damn well close enough, so it’s an unashamed 5 out of 5 from me. We impatiently await Mass Effect 3!
* STFU, we totally have them!
** I know, there was a fix for it but it was obscure and frankly shouldn’t have happened in the first place.
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