I really enjoyed Mass Effect 1, unlike Jade Empire it actually managed to live up to they hype. While it did have some technical and gameplay issues (texture pop-in, terrible inventory system and those fucking elevators) it was still a great game. In particular I liked the world it was set in. The story itself was also pretty enjoyable and well constructed. So needless to say I was looking forward to Mass Effect 2 quite a bit.
As with most games that Im looking forward to I avoided as much preview and promotional material as I could. Cant fall foul to those terrible “spoilers”. While I played the original on the 360 I had intended to migrate to the PC for the second installment. Unfortunately I just couldnt bring myself to play through the first game again, it just seemed so terribly tedious. So I was forced to continue the adventures of John Sheppard on the 360.
I cant decide if Im disappointed with the second game or not. While it certainly has its highpoints there are also several flaws with it that become more annoying in retrospect than they were while playing the game. At this point Ive completed the 360 version, reloaded it and completed it again. Im also half way through a playthrough on the PC with a renegade femShep (761.Q9G.M17.F2A.JDQ.64Q.1DA.711.961.417.1G6.162). I suppose, that at this point, if my feelings about being disappointed are still too ambiguous to call then it cant be that bad a game. Anyhow, Im going to go with a good vs bad list and you can take from it what you will. This will be relatively free of story spoilers but a few might slip through so if youre worried about that kind of thing than avoid.
Storytelling: The manner in which the story is conveyed is amazing. From the breathtaking (ho, ho) intro to the grim epilogue the entire game feels like a big budget film. The “cinematography” is generally excellent, as is the presentation and voice acting.
The cast: Unlike the first game where I used the same party (Tali and Garrus) for the majority of my playthrough (because the other options were annoying or boring) the second game features a cast of recruitable characters that makes such decisions a real struggle. Even the majority of the supporting cast are interesting or cool enough to make you pay attention. With Martin Sheen’s performance as The Illusive Man (echoes of Krondor eh?) being my personal favourite. They even almost managed to make the human party members as interesting as the super cool alien ones.
The game engine: The game looks lovely and plays very smoothly. Gone are the texture pop-ins that plagued the first game. We also see a much higher level of customisation for Sheppard, which is greatly appreciated.
Gameplay: The gameplay in Mass Effect 2 is much more polished and enjoyable than that in the first game. Each type of weapon feels distinct and has its own advantages and disadvantages. The firefights feel fluid as you slide in and out of coover unleashing hot lead and biotic nastiness in equl measure. Its also nice to see that your teammates have wised up and lost the suicidal tendencies of the first games AI. Each class also has its own special power which makes it feel very distinct from the other classes (and is also generally pretty cool in its own right).
Carryover: While it isnt as big a deal as it was made out to be the ability to carry over your decisions from the first game really does make Mass Effect 2 feel like a continuation of “your” story.
Its not an rpg: (Well more correctly its not a recognisable CRPG) The second game entirely abandons the first games attempts to be an rpg in favour of transitioning more fully into the action game genre. The first game was pretty clearly an action rpg. Which is what I was expecting the second game to be. However, the second game is clearly an action game with rpg elements. While I found this personally disappointing it also negatively effects the game in a wider sense.
There is no longer an inventory, which means that each store in the game has exactly four items, either so cheap to be not worth mentioning or so expensive as to require several missions worth of money. This makes the shops feel terribly artificial. This same artificiality is present in the environs in which missions occur. Each location feels very much like a level in a shooter rather than an indepdent location with its own existence. The mission structure itself is probably the most egregious example of the damage caused by turning Mass Effect 2 into an action game. Each part of the story is delivered in discrete easily digestible chunks, each clearly delineated from the next by the presence of a mission complete screen. This serves to both disrupt immersion in and the momentum of the games story.
There are also some silly retcons made to the universe in order to sell the more action based gameplay. Such as how an entirely new ammo system has been introduced galaxy wide in the space of two years, even on the dirtiest, poorest outskirts of the galaxy and even to a race thats at war with the rest of the aforementioend galaxy.
The story: While the middle volume of a trilogy does often suffer in terms of quality the problems with Mass Effect 2’s story cant be placed solely on this. The main problem with Mass Effect 2’s story is that very little happens and what does happen occurs largely at the beginning and end of the game. The majority of the game is taken up with recruting and securing your team. But unlike say, the Dirty Dozen, the main meat of these kinds of stories is entirely missing. We see the entire team assembled together once in the entire game. We never see any kind of group training, or really any interaction between the party members other than the occasional throw away line during a mission. Really the major events of the game could be summed up in a very short paragraph e.g. MASSIVE SPOILERS IN THE PARAGRAPH BELOW
Sheppard is killed by the collectors. Cerberus brings him back to life and tasks him with recruiting a team to take on the collectors. Sheppard recruits his team, falls into a collector trap where he discovers a) they work for the repers and b) they used to be protheans. Sheppard attacks the collectors secret base and kills a pre-natal Reper that was being built from humans.
Apart from the fact that fuck all happens everything important that does happen occurs in the intro and the last mission in the game. Overall the story was supremely “meh”.
The game engine: While the elevator’s are gone the loading remains. The load times on the 360 are terrible, this is particulalry annoying when you want to move from deck to deck in the Normandy in order to talk to your party members. Its even worse when you see how quickly it loads on the PC.
The game mechanics: Direct damage biotic powers are so much more useful than “effect” biotic powers that they make the latter more or less (and on higher difficulty levels, entirely) useless. The main reason for this is that direct damage biotic powers are equally effective on all enemies which effect powers only function on un-shielded enemies. I’s say over half the enemies you encounter have shields, on higher difficulty levels this percentage rises very close to 100%. I also much preferred the first games overheat to the second games ammo option.
Soeaking of ammo the ammo powers are a nice idea but poorly implemented. They lack the “cool” factor of other powers and your party members always forget to equip them. I much preferred the static ammo mods from the first game. Oh and having the button used to skip dialogue also select dialogue choices is complete bullshit.
No gays in the space army: I found the lack of homosexual romance options for either gender to be disappointing. Evidently in Mass Effects future its more acceptable to bang a different species than someone of the same sex. Or maybe more people want to be Captain Kirk than Captain Jack.
Lack of options: For most of the weapon types you have two or three different types of weapon and thats it. Added to that the second weapon is always categorically better than the first in all ways. So the choice is only ever between the second and third weapon. I also find it bizarre that while you can customise every little details of Sheppards appearance the most you can do for your party members is to switch them into a different costume after their loyalty mission is done. What makes it even worse is that the second costume is often little more than a pallete swith of their default one.
Carryover: The default decisions made for newly created characters are more or less the shittiest decisions that could be made. Why didnt Bioware add in an option to select which story choices you want to made when you create a new character?
Scanning: This is possibly the shittiest, most tedious “minigame” ever. What makes it even worse is that you have to do it as unless you fully upgrade your ship and at least marginally upgrade your equipment you will be getting the BAD END ending to the game (I speak from experience on this point).
In summation Mass Effect 2 is a good game that contains too many niggling annoyances, most of which would be excusable by themselves, to make the leap from good to great. If you enjoyed the first game I’d still recommend playing through this. And even if you havent played through the first game but fancy an enjoyable enough sci-fi shooter than give it a go. Overall I’d give the game a score in the mid seventies, maybe add on ten percent to that if you liked the first game. Some of the above points may be a little rough, and in fairness the majority are more opinion than fact. But to be honest now that I’m done with Mass Effect 2 it wasnt good enough to carve out the mental realestate required for me to kick this into proper shape.
In other news I got rid of that dagger I hated with my Warlock.
Listening to: Abingdon Boys School - HOWLING -Inch Up-