Mass Effect 2 Review: Near Perfection

The original Mass Effect is an amazing gaming experience but far from perfection. From its infamous elevators to the heaps of useless items, there was significant room for improvement. And let’s not even mention trying to pilot that Mako rover with any semblance of recognizable skill.

Regardless of Mass Effect’s flaws, developer BioWare is one of the great game development houses operating. Not only do they create compelling technical marvels, but they actually listen to their extremely loyal gamer fan base. When it came time to craft Mass Effect 2, they overhauled and tweaked everything that is lacking in Mass Effect based on gamer feedback to create an even more stellar experience with the sequel.

Mass Effect 2 begins in 2183, not long after the events of Mass Effect take place. The Geth race has been virtually wiped out leaving Commander Shepard and the Normandy’s crew to patrol the darkness of space locating and destroying any remaining presence of the sentient machines. The Normandy comes under attack from an unknown assailant leaving the crew scattered in escape pods, the vessel destroyed, and Shepard missing in action. From here launches one of the most memorable sci-fi stories in gaming, one that will not be spoiled in this review. There needs to be a Mass Effect movie!

With Mass Effect 2, one of the best features instantly brought to your attention is the ability to import your save file from Mass Effect. Your Commander Shepard, your decisions, and your crew that survived the original can influence everything in Mass Effect 2. This creates an amazing experience tailored to each individual gamer. Players who have not played the first Mass Effect start a new character in Mass Effect 2, and are brought up to speed on the story elements that have taken place in Shepard’s universe.

Frequent players of Mass Effect will immediately pick up on significantly more advanced and threatening AI in Mass Effect 2. Enemies are no longer faced straight on in room after room, standing still while firing at you. The abundant variety of baddies will take cover, flank or even just approach you from all angles as an attack gets under way. This results in much faster pace action than in Mass Effect.

Realistic damage modeling is also present as you take the legs out from a synthetic enemy only to have him continue to crawl towards you blown in half. The cover system is much less static now, and draws heavily from Gears of War which is far from a bad thing. It is much easier and fluid to fire from cover, or to strafe from cover to cover and advance your position.

Gone is the need for constant medi-gel healing, now replaced with a new self-regenerating health mechanic. Simple tweaks like having to duck for cover as your shields and health collapse keeps up the exciting and sometimes frenzied pace.

One odd omission that I can’t see being a complaint from Mass Effect is the lack of hard stats on weapons and armor. Picking up a new weapon has no real onscreen comparison to what the player already has equipped like in most RPG’s. More often then not you’re forced into reading item descriptions and making a judgment call rather then picking an obviously higher level weapon or item.

Weapons and armor are much more streamlined this time around as well. Players no longer need to invest level points in specific weapon skills or armor classes. Characters can use any and all weapons available to their class, while all armor is obtained through upgrades and purchases. For those casual players out there, it makes the RPG elements of character choices and management much more accessible. To more hardcore RPG fans, some of these changes may push Mass Effect 2 closer to the an unfavorable third-person shooter spectrum rather then a classic role playing game like BioWare’s Dragon Age.

Mass Effect 2’s visuals have also been completely overhauled. Characters are ultra-detailed, and in some cases I have heard there is close to 10 times the number of animations for the same actions performed in Mass Effect. Texture pop in is fairly frequent on new areas, but doesn’t overly distract. Some of the lip sync on secondary characters is also weaker, but better then most games today.

The most impressive aspect of Mass Effect 2 is the new worlds and locations your adventure takes you. Environments range from Bladerunner to Star Wars and back again, with much more variety and life to them. There’s a significant increase in the amount of NPC’s you can interact with as well as points of interest in each base, city or planet. The scope of ME 2 dwarfs its predecessor. BioWare has created beautiful immersive worlds.

Conversation and sound is still a key point of this franchise. The conversations, script and dialogue wheel have no current equal in gaming. Every aspect of the story is spoken word, by absolute top notch voice talent ranging from Martin Sheen to BSG and Star Trek TNG alumni. Conversations are fast, witty, emotional, poignant and interesting, drawing you in for unmatched immersion for the player. Yet another new feature is also the ability to interrupt the dialogue when prompted to do so with on-screen controls. A Paragon (good) or Renegade (evil) interrupt icon will flash on the screen creating some unexpected actions or conversation directions to take place. You will create your own experience.

BioWare has achieved not only creating an excellent sequel but further developed and established a living breathing world within the Mass Effect universe. Characters are original, complex and likable, tied together with a vast storyline rivaling anything Hollywood is churning out. You feel for the events and situations some of these characters are placed in, and that’s a rare thing in gaming.

Mass Effect 2 is a great experience with minor flaws during an otherwise stellar adventure making it the first “must buy” game for Xbox 360 owners of 2010.

– Jason Krahn

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