To say Mass Effect 2 is epic would be an understatement. I was thrilled with the original Mass Effect, even with it’s most obvious flaws, and assumed that I would get a marginally better game with Mass Effect 2. Needless to say, my expectations were completely blown away.
This is not to say that Mass Effect 2 is a perfect game- it is not. But it is one of the best games I have seen in a long time- and I have been gaming since I was a young girl with my Atari 2600 (sorry Pong, you were just a little before my time!) This game is MASSIVE, with many different components, so let’s break it down to the The Good, The Average, The Bad, and The Romance. A warning- I will try my best not to spoil, but there may be slight spoilers on who shows up in the game, but I will not spoil major plot points.
Let’s start with the good. It seems the Bioware has taken the criticism from the first game and changed the things that needed to be changed. Sorry Mako fans, but there is no driving around on planet anymore, praying that you will find some random heavy metal or Prothean beacon to give you XP. Also gone are the crazy side missions where you went to the exact same warehouse to kill faceless mercenaries/cultists/randomcrazydude. You are still gathering your team (up to 12 with the downloadable character), except after recruiting them, you are given a choice to do a mission exclusive to them to gain their loyalty. These loyalty missions are well thought out and cover a variety of different things to do, so they are not the cookie cutter missions of the first game. Each planet/station/ship has a different look and feel to it, and the graphics and most of the voice acting are pretty outstanding. The random conversations you overhear are sometimes quite amusing, and I found myself stopping randomly just to listen to what a group of NPCs were talking about.
You can choose the Paragon and Renegade path, just like the first game, and just as in the first game, how you choose to play will affect how the other characters will interact with you. I played through the first time as a pure Paragon, and on the second time through I chose a few Renegade options, just to see what would happen. I was amazed at how different the characters reacted to me- it makes playing through the game multiple times seem fresh and new. The interrupt sections they added (quickly choosing to act when a certain symbol flashes on the screen) have also made the game play more intriguing. You can either end up giving a team member a much needed hug, or kicking a character through a window. You are never sure of the consequences of your actions, and that is what turns what could be just a good game into a great game.
One of the best things about the game? The storyline. It is engaging not only continues from the last game, but seamless shows you where it is going for the third one. I won’t spoil what happens, but needless to say, it is excellent.
If you have not played Mass Effect 1, you can still get great enjoyment out of Mass Effect 2, but some of the story or the people who show up will fly completely over your head. I know that myself and my friends that played both games would sometimes squeal with delight over a certain random character popping up from the first game, and referencing some choice we had made. This showed me that everything I did in Mass Effect 1 directly effected what happened in the 2nd one. If you start over as a completely new character, the game makes basic choices on who survived the last game and what happened. I have not played as that type of character, but from what I have seen the choices are decent.
The voice acting overall was stellar, but there are a few choices that are odd. Marin Sheen as the Illusive Man throws me off- his character looks nothing like how Martin Sheen looks in real life. I am unsure if other people feel this way, or if it was just me that kept thinking “Why is President Bartlett in Mass Effect 2?” Although the music is stellar in the game, sometimes the sound would go all funky on me. I tried to adjust the in-game music though the options menu, but then occasionally when a conversation was going on I couldn’t hear what was being said or the dialogue cut out completely. This was minor though, and hopefully something they can fix in the third one.
The RPG elements have been streamlined this time around. For pure RPG players, this will be very very annoying. You can still customize your character (both in how they look and what type of character they play) by adding points to various skills, but it is not to the extent of most RPGs. For the average player though, this is a relief.
The third person shooter elements have also been changed, and not always for the good. The cover system has been upgraded, but still needs some work. I found myself randomly accidentally popping up at the worst moments, and had a hard time getting back under cover. The game also favors a character who can shoot from far away, making playing as a Vanguard very very tough. I ended up dying more a Vanguard at first until I figured out best how to use my squad and my powers. You also no longer have unlimited ammo- which can be frustrating when you are being surrounded. This does, however, make you use more then one weapon, and figure out which weapon works best in what situation.
The AI is both good and bad. Overall I let my AI just do their thing, and most of the time they did very well. However, they would occasionally walk right into my line of fire, and then yell at me. And every once in awhile I would enter a room and start a firefight, only to discover my teammates were still outside of the room. These were minor instances though, and rarely happened.
The Bad: My one massive complaint about the game? The mining system. This involves (on the Xbox 360) pressing down the left trigger while SLOWLY moving the left toggle to find minerals for your upgrades. This was slow and frustrating. I understand why the developers wanted to make it difficult, otherwise you could upgrade too quickly. But this was tedious and boring, and could give you a case of serious hand cramps. I ended up making phone calls while mining, and or doing something else (the controller vibrates when you come across minerals). I believe once I even made myself dinner while mining. Since the rest of the game grabs your attention and sucks you in, this was jarring and unwelcome.
I have a serious problem with the romances in the game. In the first game, you had the chance to romance Liara as both a male and female Shepard. Now, I know that the developers called Liara’s race “monogendered” but let’s be real- all of them were voiced by women and the body was CLEARLY female, so for lesbian gamers this was awesome. Of course, our poor gay male counterparts had no one they could romance but the women, so I do see the double-standard. In the second game, male Shepard can only romance women and the female Shepard can only romance men (there is some flirtation you can have with Kelly, but as far as I can tell she does not count as a romance option). You have the choice of continuing your romance from the first game or cheating on them. However, since your romance from the first game (whoever you chose) only BREIFLY shows up in the game, it can be very frustrating. Apparently the decision to cheat or stay faithful will effect what happens in Mass Effect 3, and all I have to say is- it better pay off in a great way. I am disappointed that there are no real gay or lesbian options, especially in a future with many kinds of humans and aliens and beliefs and ways of life. I am sure homosexuality is not something that is just wiped out in the future. My other minor complaint about the romance is that, let’s face it- the men that female Shepard are can be paired with are not that great. The male Shepard has much better options with the women, all of who have distinct personalities and stories. It feels like the romances for the female Shepard are just slapped together.
Overall, this game is a great one. Minor flaws aside, it is a step up from the first one. RPG fans will be pleased for the most part of the RPG elements, shooter fans will enjoy the combat, and anyone who loves Science Fiction will enjoy the story. Female gamers will be pleased to have a strong, female protagonist that can look and act how they would want them to. There are no wallflowers with a female Commander Shepard, and to play a woman who commands respect is the best part of the game.
Review by Xan