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Gaming Mass Effect 2’s Universal Appeal


If the game detects a Mass Effect save then key choices from the first game alter the sequel. Presumably it's these choices that will be part of the motion comic that will come with the PS3 version of Mass Effect 2.

(Click the image for a link to the source)

Though the original Mass Effect did a lot of things right, few of those things were with the actual game sections. The combat was basic and rough, the sidequest environments were dull and generic, the interface was horrendously clunky and on the 360 it struggled to run at an acceptable level. Mass Effect 2 solves pretty much all these issues, as has already been detailed at length in the Second Coming posts on this blog (parts one, two and three) and for the most part won’t be covered again here. Any technical or mechanical issue from the first game has been improved, replaced or flat-out scrapped and the sequel is better for it, and where relevant Bioware have even done a good job of explaining most of those changes in-universe rather than just radically altering things and acting like nothing happened.

Some of those improvements do come at the expense of what most would consider the ‘roleplay’ elements of a roleplaying game like Mass Effect 2. Combat is almost wholly a third-person shooter, couched in familiar shooter elements like ammo (replacing the overheating mechanic) and carefully designed arenas filled with chest-high walls, with limited tactical options that vary in type and number depending on the chosen class. Combat does at least play out like a good shooter (if not a particularly varied one), though lacks the same level of crafting that goes into similar environments in a full shooter like Gears of War or Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. If RPGs are struggling to achieve mainstream appeal this generation with experience, inventory management and tactical combat then Bioware’s solution solves that with ease, though at the cost of a lot of depth.

Thankfully that simplification does not extend to the writing. Setting most of the game on the opposite side of the galaxy to Mass Effect means the sequel is filled with new codex entries that further flesh out a universe that was already pretty substantial, with plenty of new systems to explore and new species and factions to encounter on the more wild side of the Milky Way.

Almost every news item in the game is about events in the original Mass Effect or follow-ups to the first game's news items. It helps add continuity but does give the impression the entire galaxy revolves around Shepard.

(Click the image for a link to the source)

The story follows Shepard’s continued attempts to stop the threat discovered in the original game, when the imminent crisis was averted but the greater danger merely postponed. Finding a way to advance events by a couple of years without Shepard’s involvement (in a sequence that’s dramatic and impressive but fairly cheap with regards to narrative), the game introduces a new problem affecting just humanity and soon establishes a new enemy and a surprise new ally.

Thwarting this problem first requires assembling a new team – Shepard’s allies having moved on in her absence – for what looks set to be a suicide mission. This recruitment makes up the bulk of the game as each ally is tracked down, helped with their immediate problem and recruited, with an optional later quest to earn their loyalty that in the process improves their chances of surviving. As people singled out for recruitment for a dangerous mission they are the best of the best, with almost every new character being a super soldier, genetic experiment or elite in their chosen field in some way. They’re generally written and voiced well, with most of them interesting characters and all having some unique abilities, making the decision about who to bring along a little harder than just picking two complementary classes.

The most disappointing thing about the party members this time around is how less vocal they are. Outside of their personal quests (where they do dominate dialogue and events) there are points where they may as well not be present, which is possibly a symptom of there being so many more possible party members and combinations (increasing the amount of unique dialogue required), as well as the removal of elevator conversations or being able to elicit a comment from party members at any time. It’s particularly noticeable at certain points in the game that should be reunions between old friends but instead just have Shepard doing the talking, the choice of companion being entirely irrelevant to the conversation.


With no inventory management Shepard's armour is customised and bought in small pieces rather than looted from the battlefield, while party members have a couple of set outfits. This helps give every character a distinctive look.

(Click the image for a link to the source)

All told the main plot missions, the recruitment missions and the loyalty quests mean that that there is a lot more to the core story this time around. Side quests do still exist, mostly being smaller quests happened across while in a hub area or brief (but generally unique) missions uncovered while scanning planets for resources, but for the most part there’s a lot more in Mass Effect 2 that feels directly relevant to the main plot, rather than having Shepard avoiding the imminent threat as much as possible to help people out with comparatively trivial problems.

Regardless of where it ultimately sits in the blurry genre lines between RPG and shooter Mass Effect 2 is an excellent example of either (or maybe both). Combat is fast and more than competent, with weapon and ally choices offering a little variety, while the lengthy plot, numerous codex entries and well-acted (and mostly well-written) dialogue further expand the universe and make it one of the most detailed settings in gaming today. Space opera doesn’t come much better.

Game of the Year status (click here to view the list): Mass Effect 2 ends Halo: Reach‘s brief time at the top. While there’s not that much difference in my fondness for the two games (or indeed for Bioshock 2 or Super Mario Galaxy 2) RPGs will likely always be my favourite genre of game. Creating my own character, being part of an epic narrative and being able to make what feel like significant choices are all things I love to do and  Mass Effect 2 hits each of those buttons, in addition to being an excellent game.


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  1. April 24, 2011 at 03:43

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