Written by  :  Adzuken (861)
Written on  :  Feb 17, 2010
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars

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I’m Commander Shepard, and this is my favourite store on the Citadel.

The Good

Remember Mass Effect? I barely do, which is alarming since I’m pretty sure I played it less than a year ago. I mean, I have a general idea of what happened in the first game, but it’s only bits and pieces. I do remember what I thought about Mass Effect; I loved it. It’s one of those rare games that I felt fully immersed in, like I was actually part of its universe. Corny, I know, but I mean it. It sucked me in, and by the time it finally let go, I didn’t want to leave. Many of my friends replayed the original Mass Effect before moving on to the sequel, but I sure as hell wasn’t doing that. Playing it twice and knowing what was going to happen just wouldn’t be the same.

Yes, the galaxy is once again in general peril and the only person who can save it is Commander Adzuken Shepard (in my case, of course), the unfortunately named, super-competent galactic saviour-for-hire. I’m not going to say too much about the storyline, because I feel it’s important to not know anything when going into a story-driven RPG. I will say that you must travel the galaxy and recruit a team to battle a force that threatens all life in the galaxy. Also, don’t play Mass Effect 2 before playing the original Mass Effect, because you’ll miss a lot of important back story. A neat feature for people who have played the original Mass Effect is the ability to transfer their completed save data over to the sequel.

Another reason it’s important to play the original Mass Effect first is because of how strongly linked the two games are. A lot of the characters from the first game reappear in the second, even many of the minor ones. I kept getting mail from people I helped in the first game, but I barely remembered most of them. The decisions you make in the first game greatly affect what happens in the second. Well, I shouldn’t say greatly, because I only did play the game once, but I can see a lot of places where things would have been shaken up, had I done things differently. It really helps the two games feel well connected and whole.

Strangely enough, despite being a direct continuation of the original Mass Effect, there have been huge changes made that greatly alter the way the game is played. The game has a more streamlined structure. Missions are more plainly divided from the hub worlds and the inventory has been swapped out for stricter pre-mission loadouts. Very few of your former crew members return in Mass Effect 2, leaving you with a huge cast of new party members to interact with. However, despite all these changes, the game still remains familiar, and anyone who played the first game should feel comfortable with the sequel.

Many of the new characters are very intriguing, and I found myself swapping party members more often than I did in the first game. Much like the original Mass Effect, each of the characters is very different and multi-dimensional. Each character has their own sub-plot and side mission that must be done to gain their loyalty and some of them are very personal and compelling. It’s easy to grow attached to them, which is a must in an RPG such as this. Plus, in combat, it’s easier to ignore they exist, if you’re not the micromanaging type. The AI can usually hold its own, and you won’t be punished for letting them wander off into certain death. Of course, the ability to sex up one of your crew members has returned, or you always have the choice to stay loyal to your mate from the first game.

The Bad

There’s one issue I’m absolutely conflicted on; Mass Effect 2 is extremely stripped down. You remember all that looting, upgrading, equipping, selling, and leveling up you did in Mass Effect classic? I barely do, but I vaguely remember it being a pain in the butt. However, that doesn’t mean I wanted it to go away, it was part of the experience. Bioware took the pruning shears to a number of Mass Effect’s features for the sequel. Most jarringly is the utter lack of looting and extreme cut backs made to equipable items. Even the number of skills you can level up has been cut back considerably. I wasn’t a big fan of all the micromanagement, in fact, I hated having to dress up my crew every time we went out, but aren’t these the sort of things that make an RPG? I feel like the game thinks I’m too stupid for these sorts of features.

What you wind up with is a game that isn’t much deeper than Gears of War, when you look closely. It’s stop-and-pop with a few RPG elements and a more open structure. In fact, the structure seems a lot more rigid than what I remember the original Mass Effect was. Everything was broken up between gathering information and doing missions, and there’s an extremely obvious divide between the two. Missions take place in entirely different areas exclusive to those missions, so you can’t backtrack to them if you missed something, nor can you leave after they’ve started. Don’t get me wrong, it works fine, but when I can see a game’s structure, getting immersed can take some work.

Character interaction is a bit reduced as well. Again, I’m not sure I enjoyed having to listen to everyone’s goddamn life story, but I feel like the game is insulting me by dumbing it down. The characters are still deep enough, and there’s a lot of interaction still to be had, but it just feels lacking compared to the first game. It’s not nearly as bad as the simplification of the storyline, which I can sum up in two points: recruit team, save galaxy. While the first game had an underlying mystery to what was going on, and not everything was clear or straightforward, Mass Effect 2 is as clear-cut as it gets. In fact, the whole thing seems somewhat trivial when compared to the first game. The threat isn’t anywhere near as imminent or oppressive, and things never seem hopeless at all. Also, the ending of the game is completely off-the-wall ludicrous.

I wouldn’t exactly call Commander Shepard a compelling character. The guy (or gal) is an absolutely flawless human being, and that can be quite difficult to relate to. The character is absolutely capable of anything. Some of the sidequests that you wind up receiving are ridiculous. During the course of my play through, I negotiated a contract between a slaver and a corporation, I convinced a shop-keeper to get back together with her boyfriend, and I prevented a young delinquent from joining a mercenary gang. There’s absolutely nothing Shepard can’t do, and that’s stupid. I suppose I’m partially to blame, since this is the way I chose to play my character, but it does break the immersion somewhat when Shepard is capable of pulling the solution to everyone’s problem out of his ass.

Lastly, I may stand alone on this issue, but I miss the Mako. Yes, I guess Shepard’s license got pulled sometime between the two games, and gone with it are the vehicle sections. Sure, the planets were pretty barren and the side missions all resembled each other, but I was able to go there if I wanted to. I guess it appealed to the part of my brain that wanted to further explore planets in games like Elite and Star Fox. Plus, the system they used to replace it is boring as hell. Essentially, you find a mineral rich planet, scan around for deposits, and then pepper it with probes so you can buy upgrades. Ugh, it’s so tedious and boring. I want to explore, dammit!

The Bottom Line

I’m conflicted. There are a lot of things that should upset me in Mass Effect 2, the biggest being the heavy shift into action. I feel like the game ripped a lot of control out of my hands while assuring me that I didn’t actually want it. Well, it may have a point, but I feel almost betrayed, like it’s trying to please someone else, not caring what I think. Then I have to ask myself this: did I enjoy it anyway? Well, yes, I did enjoy it, quite a lot. Like the first Mass Effect, it presented me with a big, open galaxy to explore and made me feel like a part of it. It sucked me in, and when it finally let go, I felt sad to leave. To me, that means the game hit its mark with deadly accuracy. So while I can whine and complain all I want, I can’t deny that Mass Effect 2 is an OUTSTANDING game.