These days it seems that an overwhelming number of major releases are, in one way or another, sequels. Most fit neatly into a pre-established IP, but rarely provide a direct continuation of the events of previous games in the series. Not only does Mass Effect 2 break this trend by providing a direct continuation of the events of Mass Effect 1, it takes it one step further by allowing the specific actions you took in first game to affect the way things play out in the second. Mass Effect 2 is the first game to allow you to carry over your save games, and at the same time decisions from the first game, into the sequel, creating an experience which will in all likelihood by a bit different for everyone.
This carrying-over of save games is by itself a great feature, but does not really affect how good Mass Effect 2 is quality wise. Luckily Bioware saw to it that pretty much all the major problems of the excellent but flawed original were dealt with – fixed, overhauled or removed completely. As a result, Mass Effect 2 feels very different from the original, the pacing has been jacked up, the combat feels like it belongs in a high quality third-person shooter, and the epic overarching story of Mass Effect 1 has been superseded by a dark, gritty character driven tale that is very enjoyable in its own way. It doesn’t feel like the epic space opera we saw two years ago, but rather a deep, well paced and polished third person shooter with some role playing elements which enhance the experience. Mass Effect 2 is not, nor is it trying to be, a traditional RPG like Dragon Age, and making this realization is imperative if you want to enjoy this game to its full potential. ME 2 is a shooter first and foremost, and a Role-Playing game second.
Thankfully, Mass Effect 2 works very well as a shooter. While the cover system, basic squad commands and pause menu remain basically the same as those found in Mass Effect 1, the actual gunplay and enemy a.i. is much better. The gunplay in particular feels much closer to what you would find in a third person shooter like Gears of War, recoil, damage, and accuracy and range all need to be taken into account when firing a weapon. The overheating system found in ME 1 has been replaced with a more conventional ammunition or ‘thermal clip’ system, where enemies drop ammo after they are killed. You also have the opportunity to mod your ammo, depending on what type of enemy you are fighting. You no longer get experience for killing enemies, which some may dislike, but once you get used to the new system its works very well.
One of the biggest problems with the original Mass Effect’s combat was the friendly and enemy artificial intelligence. One of the bugs from Mass Effect 1 that is still present in the sequel is the path finding issues of your squad mates. They will occasionally walk into the open during a firefight, or climb on top of cover instead of hiding behind it. Luckily the enemy A.I. has been mostly fixed – in the original game, most baddies would simply charge at you, making combat often confusing and frustrating. Your opponents still aren’t the brightest, but they are much less problematic this time around, they will use cover and try to flank you, which make the shootouts much more enjoyable. There are still a few enemies that try to advance on you, but this is not a bad thing since it forces you to change your tactics – and the combat is much more tactical. Your powers are much more useful this time around and have more clearly defined effects – some are good against armour, some against shields, some only work against organic enemies – you have to change the way you play depending on which class you are, which abilities your squad mates have, and which enemies you are fighting.
In Mass Effect 1, all the classes felt fairly similar, and most of the time you would end up using 1 weapon for most of the game and maybe one or two powers. ME 2’s classes are more clearly defined, and depending on your choice you will have to change the way you play. While ME 1 allowed you to use all weapons in all classes but only let you train for 1 or two types of weapons, ME 2 only lets you use the weapons your class specializes in – although there are no longer ways to train in weapon proficiency.
Instead of training to become better with armour or weapons, you will find upgrades for them lying about, or you can buy them at various places throughout the game. Once you find the upgrade, you can’t immediately use it. You first need to return to the Normandy, which again is your ‘base’ in ME 2, and research the upgrade. It doesn’t end there – to research the upgrade, you need to have enough of 1 of 5 kinds of ore, which you obtain in two ways. Small amounts of ore are scattered throughout the game, but if you want to get all the upgrades you find, or at least the majority of them, you will need to spend a substantial amount of time in a rather dull but compulsively addicting mining mini game, where you scan a planet for ore and launch probes to extract it. This mini game replaces the planet exploration bits in Mass Effect 1, which is a welcome change because of how poor the Mako handling was, although you will occasionally find ‘anomalies’ in your scanning, at which point you can land and check things out.
Also gone is the inventory system which caused so much grief and frustration. In its place is a more shooter-like pre-mission squad load out screen, where you choose which weapons which squad members will use. Unlike Mass Effect 1, where there were a lot of different guns that all had the same basic model and feel but different stats, you will only find two or three different guns in each category, they are fairly different from each other, especially the new heavy weapons, but the stats have also been removed, so you don’t know the specific advantages of each weapon. It would seem that weapon stats could have easily been integrated into the new weapon-locker system, since when you get upgrades such as damage upgrades it will give you a percent increase, but you don’t know what that increase is on top of. Still, the new weapon locker system is a lot more intuitive than the awkward inventory management of ME 1, and serves to help the game rather than hinder it. The new armour system is similar to the new weapon system – gone are the stats, instead you can upgrade specific parts of it, and even customize the appearance of your armour. This ‘streamlined’ approach to your equipment may disappoint those in search of more traditional looting, but it does serve to simplify the experience and keep you focused on the combat and the dialogue.
Overall Mass Effect 2 is a highly successful sequel that takes the series in a direction some will hate and some will love. The game is more focused than its predecessor, which straddled the line between shooter and RPG, and as a result feels much more like a shooter than a Role Playing Game. As a RPG Mass Effect 2 leaves much to be desired, but seen as a shooter with light role playing elements it shines, and leaves you wondering how you will pass the time until the final game in the epic trilogy is released.