Game: "Mass Effect 2"
Published by: Electronic Arts
Reviewer: Dr. Boogie
Review: Iíve been looking forward to Mass Effect 2 so much that I actually managed to keep track of my original saves for two whole years. Now I can finally see more adventures of my jerkass Shepard character.
Our man/woman, Commander Shepard has just finished off renegade SPECTRE Saren and his evil extra-dimensional spaceship/boss, Sovereign. However, thereís more work to be done if the rest of the galaxy wants to completely eliminate the Reaper threat, so Shepard and his crew head back out. Unfortunately, they hit a bit of a snag: the Normandy is ambushed and destroyed by an unfamiliar ship, and Shepard is KIA. Luckily, the treacherous shadow organization, Cerberus, is able to spend an inordinate amount of money to resurrect Shepard and send him out to figure out why these new aggressors are kidnapping entire human colonies.
Is that bit a spoiler? Yes it is, but you know what? All that happens in the first five minutes, and I donít really care to pussyfoot around it while trying to explain this damn game to you people.
Anyway, right off the bat, youíll notice that the dialogue sections of the game have been given a bit more life. Characters will move about, gesticulate, and in general do more than stand perfectly still and read lines to each other. Itís a nice addition to the presentation, and thankfully itís rendered in such a way that you can still skip through dialogue youíve heard already without problem. Better still, certain bits of dialogue can be interrupted by the player with an action that gives you a bonus to your Paragon/Renegade rank, if you so desire (e.g., push an innocent bystander out of harmís way, sucker punch a mouthy reporter, etc).
Combat, however, has seen even greater revision. For starters, all weapons now use ammunition instead of the old system of having limitless ammunition governed only by heat built up as you fire. The game makes a weak attempt at explaining how a handful of clips are better than infinite ammo, but no one in the game world seems to care, so why should I?
In spite of having to make due with limited ammo, Mass Effect 2 is now a game that is far more about combat than its predecessor. The different areas of the game are now sharply divided into mission levels, and ďhubĒ planets where you can buy new stuff and get new missions. Each mission level is a strictly linear affair, boiled down to the same sequence of shootout scenarios made popular by the Gears of War franchise. Enemies appear in far greater numbers than in the previous title, but unfortunately, experience is no longer rewarded for individual enemy kills. That means a lot less leveling up, but on the other hand, you no longer have to spend points to upgrade your charactersí proficiencies with the handful of different weapons.
In fact, all of the RPG elements have been cut down to fit in with the new focus on action. Character trees, for example, now consist of only a handful of skills, each one only four deep. Some of the skills are holdovers from the first game. The rest are skills based off the different ammo types you could install in your guns (at any time I might add) from ME. Shepard can also spend points in a special class-based skill for effects like creating combat drones and giving yourself temporary invisibility.
Loot tables, too, have been reduced somewhat. In fact, there really is no loot in this game. Upgrades are bought at stores or found at specific locations within a mission. The only other things you can find in a mission area are money and resources, which youíll need to research/buy upgrades aboard your ship. Occasionally, you may find a new weapon, but in some cases, youíll only find a single additional weapon in a category in the entire game. Compare this to the old way of finding tons of guns and working out which had the right combination of stats for your purposes, and the new system seems a bit lacking.
The emphasis on combat and the scaling back of RPG elements surprised me, but what really caught my attention was the complete tonal shift from the first Mass Effect. ME2 features a significantly darker (metaphorically and literally) world than its predecessor. The first had you visiting space stations, research installations, and colonies, the dingiest of which still bore that sort of sterile cleanliness youíd see in a 70s sci fi movie. In ME2, your mission will take you to places like prisons, starship boneyards, and plague-ridden ghettoes. In ME, you could ally yourself with an ambitious young doctor or a scrappy nomad on a quest to prove herself. In ME2, youíll be putting together a crew of characters such as the bloodthirsty mercenary, the bloodthirsty assassin, and the bloodthirsty convict. Itís not a bad change per se, but having played the first game, it is a bit jarring to encounter NPCs having discussions about four-balled krogans and ďasari-hanar porn gamesĒ.
If it sounds like Iím being hard on the game, itís because Iím conflicted. The combat in Mass Effect 2 works really well, and itís a lot of fun. I just wish we didnít have to sacrifice so much to have it. With the lack of loot and the greatly simplified character building, the RPG portion of the game is largely vestigial, the stitches left on an Action RPG after it underwent surgery to remove its RPG. That said, the game is still fun when taken on its own. Iím just worried that if this trend continues, Mass Effect 3 will wind up being a rail shooter with two guns to choose from.
(Scored on a 0.5 - 5 pickles rating: 0.5 being the worst and 5 being the best)
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