BRR: Mass Effect 2 Review

Mass Effect 2 was one of those games that I was excited for, but never did any extensive research on it.  I didn’t watch many trailers, didn’t look for news, I just pre-ordered it, heard how great it was before launch, and started playing.  I went in hoping for a more refined version, but instead I got a notable improvement in nearly every aspect. 

Mass Effect 2 Review
Platforms: Xbox 360(Reviewed), PC, PlayStation 3
Release Date: 26/1/2010

The game is a direct continuation of Mass Effect 1, and uses your previous save file to import your character and his/her decisions.  These actions can sadly not be changed without the use of downloaded saves, or purchasing a motion comic that serves as an abridged version of Mass Effect 1.  This is somewhat hampered by the fact that the intro of this game takes about half an hour, and cannot be skipped.  This is a personal gripe because I tried to redesign my character, but he was really ugly, so I tried again, only to have the game crash 25 minutes in, and then I had to start a third file just to get past the tutorial area.  I’m just glad I was able to change my Shepard’s hair and alter his class when I imported my save file.

In the opening you witness the hyped death of Shapard, only to see him or her rebuilt two years later, by the pro-humanity group known as Cerberus.  The group works as your commanding officer and provider of a new ship, crew, and several new squad members, who make up a very colorful cast of characters, each with their own unique abilities. The combat overall feels like if you mixed Gears of War with Mass Effect 1, and it works very well, making the combat feesl a lot more like a shooter than a real time RPG, where you use multiple guns,  Speaking of which, you had a total of five guns on you in Mass Effect 1, but here you start with two, or at least you do most of the time.  Unless you want to be a solider class and ignore the Tech and Bionic powers that you could have at your disposal.  I was just annoyed since I had to wait until the game’s 50% marker before I could get back my trusted assault riffle. As a result of the better combat, there was an increase in the amount of enemies and overall number of things on the screen, it thankfully manages to look good and remain colorful, although the blue and grey of the first game have been replaced with orange, yellow, and metallic grey.  I find the game to be far more pleasing to look at, and to sound better as well.  Gone is the dull ambiance of the first game, and in is the more dramatic score that tones down when appropriate.

But what is that without areas and locals that capture one’s interest?  Mass Effect 2 feels like it has about the 1.5 times the amount of content that Mass Effect 1 had, but four times the new areas.  Although, most of the new content comes from the squad member’s own missions, let me explain.  Every companion character has their own side mission, referred to as loyalty missions, that unlock a special ability for them and provide some backstory and development.  These areas can range from a destroyed prison, that one member grew up in, a jungle society of insane humans, and a ship where you need to comfort a party member after realizing the horrible things that their father did.  There are also dozens of other instances like these. more of them short, but they do liven up the gameplay a bit, with missions that have you defend wounded Quarians and fuel a robot in hopes of finding mineral deposits.  They aren’t very memorable, but they are a nice touch, and amazingly lack any repeated areas, unlike Mass Effect 1.

As for the story, it’s a debatable subject.  On one hand, it has more characters, more missions, and the threat is a lot closer, in the form of the collectors.  They are pawns for the main antagonist revealed in Mass Effect, the Reapers, but that’s the main problem.  You’ve already encountered the big, bad boss, and you now need to deal with their pawns.  In the first game, you we’re investigating intergalactic treason, which threatened the death of billions, along with the entire capital of the explored universe.  Now you’ve just saving human colonies, which was the first mission in the first game.  It just feels like we’re taking a step forward, and then two steps back.  And while we are indeed much closer to the main adversary after the ending of this game, it feels like the Reapers are stalling and just throwing some minions, who, despite having an interesting backstory, are just diversions to the main threat, which is now at the galaxy’s doormat.  Despite my gripes with the basic structure, you are on a suicide mission and lack the government resources that you had in the first game, so it does create some good tension for the player.  Especially since the game is not afraid of telling you that you died, assuming that you lacked the squad and resources needed to beat the game.

However, I do love the relationships and side activities in this game.  Mass Effect 2 is one of the few games that feel one of the few games where I like hearing what my crew members have to say, which is due to the upped VA and dialog quality.  While I liked the squad members in the first game, this game does have far more interesting and more developed companions, all of whom manage to be developed, with the exception being the two downloadable characters, but I like to focus only on the main game, unless stated otherwise.  If I had to pinpoint one aspect of this game that I really don’t like, it would be the mineral scanning and load times.

The mineral scanning mini game serves as a way to obtain four minerals, which are used to buy upgrades you discover.  Said upgrades in turn change the ending, give you new weapons and upgrades, and allow you to play around with more Bionic and Tech powers.  Still, the actual mini game is monotonous, you are moving a cursor around a planet whilst waiting for a large chunk to appear, which is as thrilling as it sounds.  Other than that the only thing I have to complain about are the loading times, I understand how big a game like Skyrim is and I understand why that game needs long load times, but Mass Effect 2’s loading times certainly don’t need to be as long as they are.  This problem mostly occurs when traversing the Normany, your ship for traveling across the stars.  The ship has four levels, and each of them need about seven to ten seconds to load.  I understand that they need to load the character voices, since your crew members are on the four floors, but it seems like poor optimization.

Despite my minor complaints, I love this game, from each of your companion’s side stories, the improved combat, the higher audio and visual quality, the new areas that you can explore.  The game does so much right, and so little wrong.  Just a few additions like a few spaceship battles, or a better developed antagonist.  The main package is still a beautiful experience, that happens to be topped off with a truly epic ending.

The game manages creates a lovely aesthetic, great gameplay, and may only be lacking a few additions or a bit of polish.

Note:  There is DLC that allows you to pilot an upgraded replacement of the MAKO, called the Firewalker, but I’m trying to keep my reviews DLC free, unless I stated otherwise.  I would however recommend the DLC for Mass Effect 2, namely the Kasumi Character Pack, Overlord Mission Pack, and Shadow Broker DLC.  But I cannot stress enough that no one should buy either of the DLC packs for Mass Effect 1, They are overpriced and offer nothing new in terms of content, especially Pinnacle Station.
//Actually, that DLC for Mass Effect 1 was outsourced from what I heard, so I guess its quality is not surprising.  And as you could tell, I originally lumped reviews together, which was very dumb of me, since it makes organization a bitch.  Hell, I nearly posted my impressions of Mass Effect 3 before this.  But Mass Effect 2, still a damn, damn, damn good game.

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