Gaming Today Reviews Mass Effect 2

masseffect2_box_score2Ah, Bioware. You just couldn’t leave well enough alone, could you? It wasn’t enough to drop Dragon Age: Origins on me, was it? Less than three months after hijacking a majority of my life, Bioware’s done it again with Mass Effect 2.

Mass Effect 2 builds on the successes of the first game to deliver a superior experience in just about every facet of gameplay. The continuing adventures of Commander Shepard will pit the hero of the Citadel against the threat of the Reapers once again. Of course, you’ll be filling the well-armored boots of the captain of the Normandy.

The first thing that leapt out at me in playing Mass Effect 2 was the changes that have been made to the environments. Unlike the first Mass Effect, there are very few maze-like environments to navigate. Instead, the levels give you a solid feeling of progressing forward, not just wandering aimlessly. Combat in these environments can be resolved in multiple ways, including weapons, biotic abilities, and environmental hazards. Controls are easy to learn and master, and using powers is a straightforward affair through a selection wheel that also allows you to bind your favorites to buttons.


ShepardIn addition, you can enhance your combat abilities by exploring and finding weapon upgrades, armor upgrades, new weapons, and more. Once you find them, you can construct them using resources that you’ve found or obtained by mining planets you run across in your travels. Some of these upgrades will only affect Shepard, but many will upgrade the abilities of your entire squad.

Speaking of combat, it’s imperative that I mention to all of those who played the first Mass Effect the changes in the character classes. Contrary to the first Mass Effect, the class you choose isn’t just a minor thing defining which weapons you can use. Each is well-defined, with a unique set of skills and specialized weapons. In addition, you can further specialize your character (and each of those in your squad) through the skills and upgrades you choose.

This personalization isn’t just about combat. Rather, every choice that you make throughout the game will make your play through unique. Import your character from the first game, and you’ll feel the consequences of the choices you made in the first game continue to impact you. If you didn’t play the first Mass Effect, or you just don’t have your save game, Mass Effect 2 simply assumes what choices were made in the first game, and the references to that material are explained well enough that you won’t ever feel lost in the conversation. No matter how you proceed in the game, you’ll find options that fit with the choices that you’ve made on how to play Shepard, and they feel intuitive and well thought out.

SubjectZero2If you’re a Mass Effect veteran; however, be prepared to be blown away. There are some solid tie-ins with the first game, and some of the plot twists that pop up here will absolutely drive you nuts with joy. These moments will be powerful for you, and represent an excellent incentive for Mass Effect 2 fans to head back and try out the first game, if they haven’t already.

It’s important to mention that while Bioware allows players to bring in their characters from the first title, players starting the series with Mass Effect 2 won’t be handicapped. Everyone will be able to change their appearance, class, and other features, and everyone will start from level one in this game.

So, what makes this game so much better than the first title in the series? Personally, I can think a few things that upped my enjoyment. First, the oft-criticized ‘elevator ride’ is a thing of the past. Instead, Bioware has opted for a load screen this time around, and it’s a better choice. Secondly, a lot of the pointless side quests have been omitted as well, meaning you won’t spend a ton of time traipsing around on an empty planet for no apparent reason. Graphically, the game has improved as well, with the annoying texture pop-in noticeably absent.

Conclusions

In short, Bioware has done it again. Mass Effect 2 offers something most games simply can’t: An engaging, personalized play experience that still manages to feel like an epic adventure. The soundtrack is amazing, and the voice acting features big-screen luminaries like Martin Sheen as the Illusive Man. Glitches are at a bare minimum in the Xbox 360 version I played, with only an occasional graphical twitch to remind you that this isn’t actually real. All in all, the game feels more like you’re controlling the main character in a really excellent sci-fi movie; one that you wrote and directed. Plan to find yourself itching for Mass Effect 3 already, just like I am.

While the story suffers a bit if you haven’t played the first game, that’s no excuse to not play this one. Any gamer will be proud to have this game on their shelf, if they could get it out of their console.

In short, Mass Effect currently sits atop the heap of games released this year, and it sets the bar extremely high. Those that come after will have their work cut out for them to reach its perch.

Is January too early to start picking Game of the Year contenders? I think not, since Mass Effect 2 just made my short list. Gaming Today scores Mass Effect 2 a 9.5, and a must buy.

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