Mass Effect 2
BioWare CEO Dr. Ray Muzyka and the game's executive producer Casey Hudson have repeatedly asserted that this is the trilogy's "dark second chapter"
- Excellent character development, credible motivations, refined action, they fixed everything that was wrong with the original
- Silly ending spoils the conclusion of the game.
An improvement on just about every aspect of the original game, with the exception of one tiny aspect; the very final battle. Mass Effect 2 sees BioWare's approach to the role playing genre evolve beyond anything they've worked on previously, and gives us a glimpse of how both RPGs and shooters will begin to merge in the years ahead.
Price$ 109.95 (AUD)
Mechanically, the game is a big step up from its predecessor. Though considered with deep affection by nearly everyone that played it, no one would argue that the original Mass Effect didn't have some problems. It was plagued with an overly complicated user interface that made inventory management a real pain and navigation around the galaxy a real hit-or-miss affair. The sequel fixes all of these ills (as well as the load time masking elevator rides,) but discretely introduces a few new issues that some gamers may take issue with. Many of the tweaks have been made to streamline the combat, but the big stuff concerns weaponry. Rather than run around looking for (or buying) high-powered weapons, Shepard can now get one of his people to research upgrades to weapons, increasing their firepower, clip sizes, and effectiveness. Resources are found in a number of ways -- they show up in boxes and crates strewn throughout facilities across the galaxy, but more importantly they can be "mined" from planets in a new minigame that has you scanning planets from orbit.
Heavy weapons are a new development since the original game, and if your character is able to wield them, they can be particularly devastating.
Some would argue that the mechanic used to do this is a little boring, but I have to say that I really didn't mind it too much. There are four essential resources that impact different technologies in the game (such as shields, guns, or upgrades to your ship) and these are found by moving a cross-hair over the surface of a planet looking for blips on a scanner. The big benefit of moving to this system is that it actively encourages exploration, which in turn opens up many of the game's non-essential side-missions. Unlike those found in the first game, side quests provide a much greater sense of purpose in Mass Effect 2, and usually provide some kind of narrative benefit too. They're also what will keep the game alive beyond the game's conclusion: Even after beating the final boss and performing all of the necessary heroic duties, Shepard can return to his ship and continue to explore. It's here that EA's integration of the "Cerberus Network" will flesh out the experience further, as well. Downloadable content from the service will open up locations on new planets with new objectives, and allow you to further level up the hero and any of his surviving compatriots.
Though much has been made pre-release of the way that the game will import your character from the first game (if you have a save game from the very end) there only seem to be a few really noticeable moments where previous actions have an impact on the story in Mass Effect 2. There are several key characters that may or may not appear based on key life or death decisions you made previously, but for the most part the segue from part one to part two is more about consistency than anything that deeply impacts the core story. The move from this game to the final chapter should be a little different however. It's quite surprising to see how frequently the loading screens remind you that your actions and your relationships will impact Mass Effect 3. It seems clear that the party collected here will remain intact through to the final conclusion, so if you piss anyone off in this game (and believe me, it can be really easy to do that) it will carry over and impact your ability to finish the fight.
In Mass Effect 2 BioWare has done a spectacular job moving the role playing genre forward, and blending disparate gameplay styles into genuinely exciting sci-fi epic. It shows an enormous amount of growth from the original game both technically and emotionally, and stands head and shoulders above the vast majority of other RPGs for almost the entire ride. If it weren't for the silly ending, it would have been a five out of five game, easily, but as it stands, it's still an incredible achievement in the genre.
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