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Basic info:

Rating: M

Genre: Action-RPG

Number of Players: 1

I’m going to say this right away: I was a huge Mass Effect fan.  Having played through the game over five times, exploring the different classes, seeing the consequences of my choices, and experiencing the amazing world (or galaxy, I suppose), Bioware gave me more than my $59.99 worth.  When Mass Effect 2 came out, I was downright ecstatic.  I was confident Bioware would deliver a sequel even better than the predecessor, and, for the most part, I was not disappointed.

The game begins as most sci-fi games seem to.  You are Commander Shepard, flying through deep space on your ship, the Normandy, with your trusty crew.  It isn’t long before the peaceful and joyous ship-ride is interrupted by a mysterious enemy that takes down the ship in a few minutes flat.  The lucky members of your crew escape, but you aren’t one of them.  Instead, you are blasted into deep space, and to make matter worse, an explosion takes out your air-tank.  Shepard then proceeds to suffocate and die as the cutscene fades to the title: Mass Effect 2.

The game ends within 10 minutes.  You die in the opening.  Just kidding...sort of.

Quite an opening, no?  This game starts off with such a breathtaking opening cinematic that it’s almost impossible not to fall in love instantly.  Billions of credits ($) and two years later, Shepard is resurrected by the “Lazarus Project” which is funded by Cerberus, a shady pro-human organization.  Whether you like it or not, Shepard works with Cerberus throughout Mass Effect 2, as both Shepard and Cerberus see the real threat to the galaxy: the Reapers.

While the story is technically about an intergalactic threat, it is really driven by the diverse and amusing cast of characters you meet along the way.  You may love some, you may hate others, but what Bioware really exceeds at with Mass Effect 2 is character development.  From the second I saw “Subject Zero” A.K.A Jack, I could tell I wouldn’t like her at all.  I talked to her to learn what she was about, but she mostly annoyed me with her attitude.  After getting to know her better, she really opened up to me and told me about what she wanted to do before our team took on the real threat.  This is known as a “loyalty mission.”  The game’s way of rewarding you for getting to know your crew better by having them offer you some of the coolest missions in the game.  Through her loyalty mission I learned many things about Jack, and suddenly, I didn’t hate her anymore.  When a game makes me go from hatred for a character to genuine fondness, I will praise it for it got through to me despite my prejudices against the character.

Jack is such a nice girl if the hair-style is any indication.

Each member of your ever-growing crew has a fascinating story to be told.  From the fast-talking scientist Mordin to the calm and collected Samara, the characters are compelling and fun to talk to. The characters are all flawed in one way or another, and that adds a humanity to them that is rarely seen in video games.  Having characters in a video game that are so interesting you actually want to talk to them is a feat that is scarcely achieved.  This is all made possible by Bioware’s cinematic conversation system.  Not only is it amusing to watch, but playing through the game a second time and seeing how making different choices impacts the game is awe-inspiring.  The story is truly about you and the choices you make.  Bioware has mastered the art of storytelling, and Mass Effect 2 is proof of it.

Presentation-wise Mass Effect 2 is a gorgeous game.  The texture pop-in issues the first game had are completely gone.  The frame-rate issues the first game had are completely gone.  The cinematic look and brilliantly executed facial animations are back and better than ever.  Mass Effect 2 is a simply stunning game graphically, and deserves extra praise given the size of the world.

The whole game looks as good as the wallpapers.

The largest and most controversial change Mass Effect 2 has made from its predecessor is the new gameplay mechanics.  Mass Effect 1 was an action-RPG through and through.  There was tons of looting, stat building, skill trees, exploration etc. which fall under the RPG category, and there was also much shooting gameplay (though much of it was pause-and-play style due to all of the abilities at the player’s disposal) which fell under the action category.  Mass Effect 2 drops many of the RPG aspects from its predecessor in exchange for a more action oriented game.  There is virtually no looting, exploration is severely cut-down, you gain experience for completing missions only and not for killing enemies, there is a very limited selection of weapons (usually 2-3 per weapon type), and the once-complex skill trees have been streamlined immensely to the point that your squadmates have a maximum of three abilities as opposed to Mass Effect 1’s ten or so.  While many of the changes are welcome, I do miss the old skill trees.  Mass Effect 2’s crew feels pretty simplistic combat-wise, and much of the strategy needed for success in the predecessor is lost as this game becomes more action-oriented.  That isn’t to say the combat in this game is bad, it is just more similar to a third-person shooter than it is to a RPG now.

A thing of the past.

Third-person shooter fans will feel right at home in Mass Effect 2.  The cover system is seamless, guns feel powerful and fire accurately, and there are many heavy weapons to choose from that make the moderately limited weapon selection feel more diverse.  This is all done with a “Mass Effect spin” as biotic abilities and tech powers spice up typical battles to make them seem completely different and original, while still maintaining a familiarity that invited action game fans to jump right in.  There is a slightly larger emphasis on hotkeying now, which detracts a bit from the pause-and-play factor of the last game, though you can still pause-and-play all you want, should you choose to do so.

Of course, good gameplay doesn’t matter if the AI is brainless.  Luckily, the AI in Mass Effect 2 is very intelligent.  Krogans charge while biotic specialists stay in the back.  Tech specialists damage your allies with incinerate and pester you out of cover with their combat drones.  Vanguards try to run up-close and deal devastating shotgun blows.  It’s all done so well, that fights feel hectic, challenging, and a lot of fun.

Mass Effect 2 is exceptional in nearly every aspect.  While RPG fans may be disappointed, there is so much fun to be had in this game that the minor issues are hardly worth complaining over.  The gameplay is smooth, the enemies are smart, the story is near perfection, and the whole game has a certain epic feel to it.  Who could possibly want more?

The Final Verdict:

Presentation – 9.75

From the clean cinematic look, to the fantastically animated facial expressions, this game is truly a sight to behold.  If I were to nitpick, the hairstyles seem abnormally stiff, and there are some clipping issues at times.

Gameplay – 9.25

This game plays just like a top-notch third-person shooter.  The AI is smart, and making the right decisions with  what moves to use could mean the difference between life and death.  RPG fans may feel a bit alienated, however.

Sound – 9.75

The music ranges from “meh” to “good.”  However, this game has, hands down, the best voice acting in any video game ever.  Jennifer Hale, Martin Sheen, and Yvonne Strahovski are particularly noteworthy in my opinion.

Graphics – 9

Everything looks great.  The texture pop-in and frame-rate issues are gone.

Replay Value – 9.5

There are many different classes, different romance options, different choices you can make, and much more.  This game encourages you to play again and again, and you will want to do just that.

Final Score: 9.5 (not an average)

Thanks for reading this review!  I hope you liked it!

Next planned Review – Blazblue: Continuum Shift