xbox 360 - Mass Effect 2 : Does this sequel raise the bar or fall short?

xbox 360 - Mass Effect 2 : Does this sequel raise the bar or fall short?
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Mass Effect 2, as a sequel and a first installment.

Bioware made Mass Effect 2 to be friendly to the common gamer in almost every way. It seems all developers are making key strides to make games accessible to anyone, which makes financial sense. That being said, it’s possible this method sacrifices features/gameplay development styles that would generally give the game more depth; but lets get into that in a moment.

You do not need to play the first game to pick up Mass Effect 2. In fact you probably will enjoy it more if you’ve never touched the first one. For those of you who kept your Mass Effect 1 saves there are a few perks for importing your old Shepard. There are a few choices that migrate over but mostly they aren’t all that important in ME2; which is a rather big critque in my opinion.

Sequels are so sticky: its no longer the fresh new world it once was, yet the gameplay is often improved - however other things that fans enjoyed are slashed. Its a difficult balancing act, and lets see how Bioware handled it.

The Good:

The good old Normandy sky roof…wait.

The first noticeable difference in the sequel is the combat system. There are a number of differences: No more infinte ammo, the cover system feels like Gear of War instead of some awful clone, you can now sprint whenever you wish, accuracy doesn’t go up as you level up (stats never get in the way of a well placed, honest, legit headshot), and there are fewer stats to spend skill points on.

If you haven’t played the first one then you won’t notice the differences but you will notice how smooth it all feels. You might even say to yourself, “this is an RPG?” You would be right, and wrong.

Bioware formula: A blessing and a curse

I love the bioware formula, don’t get me wrong:

Hero suffers ill fate, gathers up friendly troops, talks to them and gets to know them, takes fight to enemy, etc. After playing Dragon age, a game where giving special ‘gifts’ start friendly NPC missions, I would assume Mass Effect would build upon the system that was established with Star Wars Knights of the old Republic.

That being noted, I still enjoyed getting to know all the characters and their backstories, even just to gain their loyalty so I wouldn’t die on the suicide mission. The dialogue setup hasn’t changed from Mass effect, you choose a phrase that sums up Shepards response.

Another bioware formula has been the good and bad reputation points. In Mass Effect they are called Paragon and Renegade respectively, but to almost every choice there is a good and bad option, which some gamers argue to be an illusion of choice rather than actual differing conclusions.

Emotional Empathy

I’m honestly awaiting Mass Effect 4.

Bioware is banking on the fact that you care. A lot of the game is talking, listening, making dialog decisions, and following through on your words. The dialogue system is simple: pick a phrase that sums up what Shepard is about to say and listen to the great voice-acting.

The only addition to the cutscenes are these simple quick time events, where either a left or right trigger icon will appear on screen. This means you have the opportunity to pull the respective trigger and follow through with either a good (left trigger) or bad (right trigger) action. For example, there is one cutscene where shepard is using a sniper rifle as binoculars and the right trigger appears on screen. If you pull it, boom, headshot. You can also choose to let the opportunity pass if you feel that is a little too brutal.

Each decision gives either Paragon or Renegade points, which open dialogue options that allow shepard to sort out problems with his words. My advice is to pick a side and stick with it, because being half good and half bad doesn’t give you the benefits you would get for being all good/evil. I’m only on my second playthrough but I’m pretty sure there isn’t much of a difference in the overall storyline, just merely how bad-ass or benevolent your shepard appears to be.

Combating Used Game Sales: The DLC called Cerebrus Network

So, in case you weren’t aware: When you buy a used game none of the proceeds go to the developer, it all goes to the company you bought it from, whether it be Amazon or gamestop. What have developers done to convince you that you need to unwrap the game yourself? Offer free DLC to original purchasers and charge 15 dollars to everyone else.

How is it working out so far? Its going pretty well, considering I bought it for sticker price, and I rarely do that. The DLC offered day one was thus: a mission (not that fun: You return to the crash site of a ship and wander around, not shooting anything ), a new party member (I don’t like him all that much, but thats clearly a personal opinion.), lie-detector armor, and a special shotgun.

Are these things worth buying the game for full price? I would say no, personally, but I wasn’t attached to the DLC character Zaeed. That being said, only time will tell if buying a used copy and then the 15 dollar DLC is worth it.

With more on the way, is what Bioware has to say.

Graphics and Elevators

This man smokes more than Snake

The graphics look great, not amazing, or stunning, or bar-raising, but they look excellent. The character models are what really stands out, but everything else looks good too. However, loading does take a considerable amount of time, or my xbox is dying. In fact I think it is dying.

For those of you who remember Mass Effect one, you remember awful elevators. Well gone are the days of waiting around, instead now in mass effect two, they have all new, improved loading screens that show you where the elevator is going…. wait, what? The purpose is to show you that you are moving around, not just standing still in an elevator. Take it or leave it, loading times aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

The Bad: Move Aside RPG, I’m a Casual Shooter.

Less talking, more killing

The RPG system has been streamlined. It isn’t more interesting, in fact its almost like a quasi RPG system. There are fewer weapons in Mass Effect 2, almost no inventory system, no need to change armor (except for the colors), and every friendly NPC only have 4 traits that can be leveled up. It just seems as though the shooter portion took precedent in mass effect 2, simply because the first system didn’t quite work that well.

I don’t think they should have gotten rid of it completely, just reformated it, re-implemented it. When I played through the game, it was like there almost no trace of RPG left. Just a leveling up system with a few biotic powers (think jedi powers but genetic/machines doing it)

If you want a weapons guide for Mass Effect 2… here ya go

No inventory for you!

One thing that really bothered me about the fact that there is no searching dead bodies for loot anymore.. is that there isn’t much of a satisfying feeling after taking down an enemy that took a lot of effort. There is no booty to gain afterwards, and that is something that I think a lot of looters will miss.

Look Ma, I’m a hacker now!

Straight and simple, the hacking mini game gets old really quickly. There are two: one is a memory game, where you have to uncover matching symbols; the other is a matching game where text that looks like code scrolls on the screen in segments, and you have to single out the code that matches yours. Its mostly a color matching game.

That being said, in order to get credits, get past doors, etc. You will be doing quite a bit of hacking before the game is done, and it doesn’t get any more interesting, or any more difficult, but it does get more boring, quickly.

DVD’s only hold so much data.

Well not really, but it sure is annoying to have to swap discs, especially if your 360 is like mine, after warranty and having difficulty reading discs. I had to open the thing up, dust it off, and hold the 360 slightly tilted back until it read the disc for the first time. It was quite a hassle so I decided to beat the game in as few start ups as possible. I think I did it in about 5 or 6. I had loyalty on all of my teammembers (you have to do a special mission to gain their trust (thats 10 missions I believe, maybe less).

Even though having two discs is a pain, bioware was quite smart about how they managed their data. There is a lot of repeated data so that half way through the story, when you are attempting to revisit older planets, it allows you to do so on the second disc. You can also start up the game from the second disc. However the last level is on the first disc again, so you will be doing two swaps total.

Another annoying feature about ME2 is that if you download the entire thing to your harddrive, the game still makes you swap discs. Uhh….

Resources and Unmapped worlds

There is a mining mini-game in Mass Effect 2 for getting raw resources/elements. Essentially you mine distant planets with probes. It is awfully boring, but if you plan on surviving the mission at the end, you are going to have to mine to get weapon upgrades, and ship upgrades (spoiler: yes they help, and yes you will lose someone if you don’t upgrade)

The Middle Child

The middle child always gets the least amount of attention. Just look at quantum solace in the Bond series, the entire story is plot filler mixed with action sequences and a disappointing, anti-climatic climax. It’s the same with Mass Effect 2, the story however fun to follow, doesn’t have the epic, inspiring story that ME 1 drew me in with. The ending of Mass Effect 2 just leaves you on a cliff… hanging, on for a Mass Effect 3 announcement.

Which will be here sooner than we think. Year-long development cycles are the new way of life, I suppose.

Adult Tendencies

Mass Effect 2 Nudity

There is a lot of internet buzz about how Shepard is a pimp that sleeps with every single member of his squad in Mass Effect 2. Which is pretty true, but what is actually shown is a joke to video games as a medium. In movies no one seems as likely to second guess the execution of a sex scene; yet when a similar, toned down experience appears in a video game, the media has a field day.

Bioware has responded to the lack of ‘mature’ content in mass effect 2, possibly because of the attention the first one drew to the public eye. Whatever the case, my hope is that one day video games and movies will be equally respected. I suppose video games need to get older and developers need to take chances, risks.

Heres hoping heavy rain is up to the challenge of mature entertainment.

You call this a suicide mission?

Mass Effect 2 Sex Scene

Bioware’s first marketing ploy for Mass effect 2 was saying Shepard was dead, which is true. (spoiler) You get brought back (end spoiler) The next move was explaining that the last mission in Mass effect 2 is a suicide mission, for which most people won’t survive. Maybe I play too many video games, but everyone I talk to about their Mass Effect experience says they didn’t die. Well I didn’t either, I tried to keep all my crew alive, and had to retry in order to keep them all alive. However in order to kill shepard, I had to re-roll, and not gain loyalty, or upgrade my ship.

Just by experiencing what the game has to offer, you aren’t going to die, almost guaranteed.

In conclusion… (3 out of 5)

Aside from all the negative notes, I still love the game. I wish it were on my playstation so I could play it more, and didn’t have to switch discs, but theres not much I can do about that. The game isn’t exactly what bioware promised, but it is still another exciting installment in the Mass Effect Series, also: good news the mass effect universe isn’t going to die after the trilogy is completed.

Ultimately, if you are still asking yourself wether or not you should buy this game… Don’t. Go rent it, you’ll probably finish by the time your rental is up, and then you won’t need to buy it. Honestly the DLC that comes in the pre-packaged game isn’t that great, the only way it would be worth it is if they released something game-changing.

This post is part of the series: Mass Effect 2 Reviews & Previews

A deep look at Mass Effect 2 in this collection of reviews and previews.

  1. Preview of Mass Effect 2 for PlayStation 3
  2. Mass Effect 2: A first Impressions review
  3. Mass Effect 2 Review: We Know You Feel This, Shepard
  4. Mass Effect 2: Shepard’s Second Adventure - is it Worth the Price?
  5. Mass Effect 2 - Lair of the Shadow Broker Review