Mass Effect 2 review
If you played the excellent Mass Effect then this sequel will come as both a treat and a shock. The treat is that you can import your existing character into Mass Effect 2, gaining combat bonuses and also affecting events - to a limited degree - based on your previous actions. The shock is that unlike the original, Mass Effect 2 is less of a role-playing game and more of a tactical third-person shooter.
Gone is the familiar RPG mechanic of collecting items dropped from fallen enemies and searching every nook and cranny for hidden stashes of loot. Your character has no inventory, instead relying on research and the occasional found item to improve his arsenal. It's a brave move, but one that should draw more fans than it alienates.
Those returning to the Mass Effect universe will find many of the criticisms of the first game have been addressed. Combat is far more fluid, with an improved cover system and a streamlined interface for issuing commands to team-mates. Moreover, new powers and abilities make it a more tactical experience: some abilities work in combination with others, and some are designed to work best against specific enemies, which makes your choice of team mates critical. Enemies themselves are much trickier, and you'll find them flanking you and taking cover.
The fast-paced combat may be central to Mass Effect 2, but it’s not a one paced affair. You’ll also invest plenty of time in conversations with in-game characters, which maintain the same high quality of scripting, voice acting and depth. The dialogue interface presents moral dilemmas so that over the course of the game you build up a reputation as either a Paragon or Renegade, which can then unlock further dialogue options.
It's impossible to discuss the main plot without spoiling aspects of the game: suffice to say that it involves you building up an elite squad to take on a final threat (although of course, it's not the ‘final-final’ threat as Mass Effect 3 is already in planning). Your team consists of a mix of new characters plus those from the previous game.
Each character you recruit offers a secondary mission to help you gain their loyalty. While travelling the galaxy you can also stumble across side missions on unexplored worlds, or mine resources to feed your research, which provides you with upgrades. If you played the first game, you'll be glad to hear there's no more bouncing around in that awful moon buggy: you scan planets from orbit, and only land if there's a mission.
We would have preferred there to be fewer possible teammates to recruit, and more depth to each character, and we felt less involved with the rest of the game world as a result of this dilution. Some side missions seemed to promise further plot developments, but turned out to be dead ends.
However, there are still some brilliant touches, especially developer Bioware's trademark cultural and gaming references: the video game vendor in the Citadel, for example who complains, "Nowadays games are all about big choices and visceral combat. I miss the old games, where your character had to eat, and it took five hours real-time to fly somewhere." Overhearing conversations not only adds to the depth, but can lead to side missions as well.
The new characters especially will delight you with their various personalities and foibles, and it's a game that will draw you in emotionally, so much so that you'll find it hard to let go once you've finished it. You can then replay the game using your existing character to gain bonuses, or start a new game to try out a different class, and of course you'll be able to import your character into Mass Effect 3.