Mass Effect, by Electronic Arts (EA), sets the benchmark for third person role playing actions games. It is as close to a DVD movie as a video game can get, because, unlike most first person games, players can see and hear the player character as well as the non-player characters (NPCs). This movie-like quality greatly enhances the compelling story, which is the hallmark of the Mass Effect Trilogy.
This second episode of the Mass Effect Trilogy begins with the death (yes, DEATH) of Commander Shepard, in a fiery ambush of the Normandy, two years after he/she defeated the traitorous Saren Arterius in the battle of the Citadel. But, thank the goddess, he/she is later resurrected in Project Lazarus by the Illusive Man, leader of Cerberus, a shadowy and ruthless "human supremacist" organization, for the sole purpose of sending the legendary commander to investigate a new cataclysmic event in the Galaxy: entire human colonies have been vanishing without a trace, leaving behind empty buildings. To confront the threat, Shepard travels across the Galaxy to recruit up to a dozen of the most dangerous characters to his/her elite team, at locations including Illium, an asari colony, and Omega, a lawless mining station built on a hollowed out asteroid in the Terminus Systems, for a mission from which every member of the team, including Commander Shepard, may never return.
**End of Possible Spoilers**
Players who had completed Mass Effect 1 (ME1) can import a Save Game from the list of Character Saves into Mass Effect 2 (ME2). During the file transfer, they have the option of changing the class of Commander Shepard, for example, from adept to vanguard, as well as his/her physical characteristics. This is possible in the storyline on account of Project Lazarus--a very clever way of putting Shepard on reset. If Shepard was imported at a high level in ME1, players will be awarded with bonus squad points and research metals at the start. (See my comment dated 2/3/10.) All the NPCs who were alive at the end of the ME1 are transferred. Furthermore, the story in ME2 unfolds in accordance with the decisions made by the players in ME1, for example, whether Shepard set the Rachni queen free in Noveria, whether he/she resolved the conflict with Wrex on Virmire peacefully, or whether he/she called in the human fleet to save the Council in the battle of the Citadel. The main storyline, however, remains unchanged. For those who never play ME1, ME2 can be played stand-alone with new characters and certain pre-set assumptions on events in ME1. New characters in ME2 include Thane, a drell master assassin, Legion, a free-thinking geth, who is stalking Commander Shepard, and Subject Zero, a female human biotic gang and cult member, with head-to-toe tattoos. Other than the geth and the Reapers, new enemies emerge in ME2. They include the Collectors, a winged insect-like species who are suspected to be working for the Reapers, and Scions, which are grotesque experiments of the Reaper, as well as monstrous beings created by the Reapers out of other species they abducted.
THE GAME/COMBAT SYSTEM
The Artificial Intelligence (AI) and combat system have been vastly improved in ME2. Gone are those annoying texture pop-ups in ME1. So are those long elevator rides--they are replaced with loading screens. Battle scenes are more realistic: enemies are thrown against walls, limbs are blown off, and wounded fighters continue to fight by crawling on the ground. Players can hit the enemies where they place the reticles, like in a shooter. (This is not so in ME1, where hits are calculated based on the number of skill points assigned by the players to the characters.) Players can now issue attack orders to Shepard's squad mates by using the directional-pad of the controller (of the Xbox 360), and manually prompt Commander Shepard to duck behind covers. The limitless ammo is no more in ME2. It is replaced with removable "thermal clips". When a clip is spent, it must be ejected and replaced with a new one. Players are therefore advised to take note of the amount of thermo clips available during battles. Instead of only four weapon types as in ME1, there are nineteen in ME2. One of my gripes with ME1 was the lack of heavy hand-held weapons. In ME2, they are available to the soldier class player character (as well as Commander Shepard of all classes). These heavy weapons knock down multiple enemies in one gigantic blast. A sentinel class player character now dons an ablation tactical armor, which makes him/her very tough to kill. An engineer class player character can launch a drone to aid him/her in battle. An adept class player character can spawn micro-singularities around the enemies, annihilating them en masse. Tactical cloak, which renders a combatant invisible briefly, is available to an infiltrator class player character. A vanguard class player character can dash around the battlefield with a new biotic power--the "biotic charge", which propels him/her forward at tremendous speed and force, to attack or evade the enemies. There is no longer any class restriction in armor. Medi-gel, used in the ME1 to regenerate health, is replaced with auto-regeneration, although the players still need it to cast the Unity reviving power. (Note: auto-regeneration is also available in ME1, but only as an upgrade to the armors.)
The dialogue wheel in ME1 is the most innovative dialogue system in all the games I have ever played. When used probably, it delivers a continuous and seamless dialogue, and hence the movie-like quality of the game. In ME2, the dialogue wheel is further improved. A new "interrupt" system is introduced. When prompted by the players with the left or right trigger of the controller (of the Xbox 360), Commander Shepard can interrupt the dialogue with "heroic" or "hostile" action to get the answer he/she wants. Furthermore, instead of the previous static camera position in ME1, the camera moves around during conversations in ME2, adding further cinematic effect to the game.
Like in ME1, choices made by the players influence the outcome of the game in ME2. For example, in ME1, on the planet Virmire, Commander Shepard (and hence the players), was called upon to decide which of the two squad mates he/she would rescue; the one left behind was consumed in a subsequent nuclear blast. In the same manner, decisions of the players in ME2 throughout the game may eventually lead to the annihilation of the entire ground team in the final mission, including Commander Shepard, or the survival of every team member, or something in between. Players with a "dead" Shepard will not be able to import him/her into ME3. The same thing is true with a "dead" teammate. They can play ME3 with a generic Shepard, but not "their" Shepard. Furthermore, with Shepard killed, players can't return to the game world after the final mission and continue to play, for example, to complete a side quest, or to explore a new locale. They will have to start a new game or reload with a previous save-file and replay part of the game for a different outcome. This gives incentive to players to make sound decisions throughout the game, before heading into the final mission. (See my comment dated 4/23/10.)
THE CERBERUS NETWORK
The Cerberus Network is a cleverly designed in-game portal through which players can access "Downloadable Contents (DLCs)" from EA. Players activate this network with a one-time access code, which is included in every new game purchase. Game renters and used game buyers will have to pay for the code. This arrangement is apparently a ploy by EA to combat the rental and used game market, which has been undermining retail sales of new games. Players who access the network will receive the first DLC pack on January 26, 2010, the date on which the game is released in North America. This first DLC introduces Zaeed, a rough and tumble mercenary who will join Shepard's elite team. A future DLC will introduce the Hammerhead, a hover tank to replace the much-maligned Mako in ME1. (Note: There is no driveable vehicle in the core game.) In addition, new missions and in-game items will be released to gamers by EA through this network.
ME2 comes with 2 discs. Players have to swap discs (twice per game) at some points. There are 90 voice actors playing 546 characters with over 30,000 lines of dialogue. New voice actors in ME2 include D.C. Douglas, Martin Sheen and Adam Baldwin. In conclusion, ME2 is a role-playing game with the look and feel of a shooter. It is a must-have game of the year.
This is what happens when you listen to the fans
Did you want better graphics? Did you want a better shooter interface? Well, Bioware delivered...no question.
So Bioware has made a lot of changes to the game (too many to count perhaps), but one things for sure, they created a winner.
NEW COMBAT SYSTEM:
Much more like a first person shooter now; defiantly fun to shoot people and pop the head off of someone. Also doesn't matter as much what abilities you upgrade or what weapons you have; if you can aim then you can kill a bad guy.
NEW UPGRADE SYSTEM:
Can't really decide if I like this or not. There's a part of me that enjoys how much simpler everything has become and how much time I save, but I think I kind of enjoyed the in depth upgrade and weapons in the first game. This opinion may or may not be shared. Regardless, I was a little to overwhelmed by the greatness of this game to care that much.
INTERFACE WITH PREVIOUS GAME:
You'll hear little reminents of things you did in the past and you'll definitely get the feel that you had an impact, but it's not as dramatic I had expected. They hyped it up so much that your last game would have such a big impact on this one, but I haven't seen much to back that up. I was a level 55 in the first game so I got to start a few levels up in this one and they gave me a little extra cash for being rich in ME1, but it wasn't that significant. Guess I just expected a little bit more, but I have to admit that any interface with the previous game must have been hard and it's groundbreaking, so they get my respect.
HACKING/CODE BREAKING: The new system they designed for unlocking items and hacking systems is a lot more fun. Actually feels a little bit challenging and regardless of your level or path you've chosen, you'll be able to do it.
VEHICLE: Good news! There really isn't a vehicle; you'll pick where you want to go and then you'll go there. The vehicle from ME1 felt like a shopping cart with one bad wheel to me and I'm glad to see it's gone.
PLANET EXPLORATION: Pretty cool system they came up with. You'll use a radar device to explore a planets surface and then deploy pods to check for what you're looking for. This is a much improved system from just driving around in my opinion. Be ready to spend a lot of hours looking around. There's an amazing amount of land to cover in the universe. They really worked hard to give you a lot to explore and it shows. Doesn't have that empty pointless feeling that the first ME had when I was checking planets. If they weren't related to the primary objective, every planet felt the same
1) Story is great and managed to integrate with the first game to include your actions taken
2) Graphics are on par with competitive titles from this gen; really stunning to just look around at your surroundings
3) Lots of glitches fixed and too many improvements to count; some things they did were almost to small to even notice, but you can feel they're there
1) New dumbed down RPG elements feel easy to use but a little empty. If you hated the monotony of upgrading too many small aspects and customizing every weapon for proper ammo and best fit then maybe you'll like it. But, I couldn't help but feel that it was a little bit too easy and boring compared to the first game
2) You'll have to do a long mission to gain the loyalty of every one of your 10 squad members; it's kind of cool at first, but it gets a little old. Really? I have to complete a mission to get Garus on my side? Pretty sure I proved my loyalty fighting the Geth and Saren already
3) The new planet scanning system is cool and I'm glad to be rid of the vehicle, but it starts to get really old searching for minerals. After about 4 hours of it I got tired and decided I had enough uprades. Searched about 60 planets and found 6 side missions, so that feels like there's probably a lot out there. I didn't make it to level 30 so I must have missed a lot, but I just got so sick of scanning planets. Not a big complaint though; I don't know how they could have done it better so I was pleased.
COMBAT SYSTEM: 10/10
INTEGRATION OF PREVIOUS GAME: 7/10
Whether you liked the first ME or you didn't, this game is a winner. I have my share of complaints, but the game is an amazing edition to the trilogy and you can just sense the effort Bioware put into this. Everyone will have complaints, but I've never seen a developer listen to the feedback and put forth this much effort.
Two days ago I would have told you ME1 was almost perfect, but this game has shown be the light and really set the bar.
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