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Avatar ImageGamer Limit Review: Mass Effect 2
By: | January 26th, 2010 | Xbox 360
Review |X360

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Sci-fi has come a long way. Decades ago, it was “just for nerds”, before Star Wars came along and changed everything. Then the genre sort of retreated from the limelight, waxed and waned, only to be on top again with recent properties such as J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek, and now, the Mass Effect series.

Mass Effect 1 - while generally well received – wasn’t without its problems, but in the recent sequel just about everything has been retooled: some additions are better, some are questionable.

This time around, Commander Shepard will be working for a secret organization known as “Cerberus”, rather than the alliance or the Citadel council. The reputation of said secret organization is… less than admirable. In fact, some of your party members will be completely upfront with their contempt of Cerberus – which makes it all the more interesting. Your overall mission is to find out why nearby colonies’ populations are disappearing out of thin air, and possibly connect it to the return of the Reapers (the villains from the first game).

The story is lacking compared to the original, because everything until the very end feels almost like a side story. However, this can be attributed to to the fact that the game really places a holistic focus on the relationships with your team members. In this iteration, most of the game will focus around building your team, and making it the strongest it can possibly be, rather than an interesting over-arching narrative. Because of the relatively slow pacing, your interest may wane after a bit, and you might want to take a break.

In addition to the standard one-off story, Mass Effect 2 also touts a pretty unique feature: you can import your character from the first game, bringing over the choices you’ve made. If you’re expecting the import tool to be the next big thing though, prepare to be disappointed. Only two of the choices (that you made at the very end) carry over in any significant sense, and have nearly no bearing on the Mass Effect 2 story.

In fact, if you start a fresh new Mass Effect 2 save, you can simply make those choices through a “recollection dialogue” in about twenty seconds. But fear not! Because in stark contrast to Mass Effect 1, Mass Effect 2‘s own choices are so dire, and so profound, that there’s simply no way Mass Effect 3 will skimp out as much as this game.

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Gameplay wise, Mass Effect 2 has changed just about everything from the first game. First off, there’s no Mako exploration (I can hear the cheers across the internet), no grenades, ammo is now a factor, you can only level up four or five abilities (there are no “stats” to level up), there is no proper inventory, and your party’s guns and armor are no longer customizable. You can change Shepard’s armor: that’s it.

You cannot customize your party members outside of earning one alternate color palette. While Shepard can customize his armor in your quarters, the vast majority of your gear looks similar, and doesn’t change much outside of “leg-plates that add 5% health” or “leg-plates that add sprint speed”.

Also, gone are the equipment tactical decisions such as “should I use this gun that gives extra armor penetration, or this one, that gives me extra accuracy?” When you find a new gun in Mass Effect 2, it simply tells you “this is better”, and automatically equips it. Medi-Gel is also simplified, and works as a super group heal/resurrection tool all at once. Think of it as a “cure-all phoenix down”: it really makes some encounters incredibly simple, and takes away some of the need for tactical planning.

RPG fans are probably screaming at the top of their lungs in anguish, and shooter fans are most likely screaming for completely different reasons. Everything is much less customizable and simple this time around, but with that comes a more streamlined shooter experience.

In fact, shooter fans will no doubt feel right at home with Mass Effect 2‘s combat system. Almost all of the RPG feel is gone, to the point where BioWare practically invented an entirely new genre: “Story-Driven Shooter”. The limited ability count works in your favor if you hate menus, given that there are three hot keys (left bumper, right bumper, and Y), basically every ability you’ll ever need is right on your controller without the need to access a radial dial.

During a firefight, your enemies react more when you hit them in certain places, and even though you are limited by an ammo system, the action feels a lot more intense. The cover system is still a bit jerky, in the sense that you can’t snap to cover if you’re looking away from it, but that’s just about the only issue with Mass Effect 2‘s combat.

Another huge aspect of the series is the deep dialogue system. Mass Effect 2 is exactly the same as the original: in the sense that it’s not as deep as Dragon Age, yet extremely serviceable. But the real change doesn’t appear in the form of a dialogue wheel: it’s during the in-game cutscenes. Using the new action-based paragon and renegade system, you are able to make drastic choices right in the middle of a scene.

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For instance, if your party member is about to brutally execute someone, a blue symbol might pop up, and you have the option to press the left trigger (paragon – heroic) to grab the gun at the last second and prevent the murder. Alternatively, if someone is pushing you around, you can press the right trigger (renegade – drastic), which usually results in a swift bullet to the head of your antagonist. If you do nothing, the scene will play out without your intervention.

Speaking of interaction with your crew, it simply must be said that your party in Mass Effect 2 is significantly more interesting than just about any game out there; even the returning crew from Mass Effect 1 are more fleshed out. Every character is accompanied by a terrific voice actor, and contains a ton of interesting backstory, which leads me to the game’s greatly improved side missions.

Right now I’m even salivating at the prospect of finishing up all of the extra content. Instead of requiring you to embark on convoluted and unrelated side quests, each party member will personally ask you to help them with something incredibly important, which will be familiar for those who played Dragon Age. Whether that means proving their innocence in the face of exile, or finding a long lost family member in danger, it’s guaranteed to be exciting, and worth doing.

In addition to gaining the loyalty of that crew member, which opens up more dialog or romance options, you’ll unlock an additional ability for each party member after the completion of their side quest: in other words, their “ultimate” attack. To accompany the party side quests, you’ll also have some extra, albeit less interesting, missions sprinkled in, and the ability to scan planets through a mini-game for resources.

There’s even some extra content that will appeal to the collector maniac in everyone, such as additional star maps, toys, and fish for your aquarium. If you buy the game new, you’ll also gain access to the “in-game DLC network” Cerberus, which right off the bat will net you an additional character and missions.

Long story short, Mass Effect 2 is step forward for story-heavy shooters. Just about everything BioWare does is gold, but Mass Effect 2 succeeds in proving that BioWare really can make an action game.

Rating Category
10.0 Presentation
Mass Effect 2 is one of the best looking games this generation. The locales are also much more interesting this time around, and the character performances feel significantly less wooden.
How does our scoring system work?
9.0 Gameplay
It feels like instead of "fixing" some of the gameplay problems from the first game, BioWare dumbed them down a bit (or dumped them completely) to appeal to pure action fans. While RPG fans might be a bit disappointed by the simplicity, many gamers will still love the changes, and the combat is solid regardless.
9.5 Sound
Iconic video game producer Jack Wall's score is excellent, and the voice cast consists of excellent performances by Hollywood and video game lore greats such as Martin Sheen, Seth Green, and Steve Blum.
10.0 Longevity
Even though the import feature from Mass Effect 1 was disappointing, there are so many things to do in Mass Effect 2, it's staggering. The core story took me around 14 hours to complete, the side missions are actually good this time around, and you'll want to replay the end of the game at least ten times.
9.5 Overall
BioWare has done it again. Mass Effect 2 is incredibly entertaining and full of so many cliffhanger moments, you simply have to experience it.

  1. Only two more days until Australian release. Can’t wait!

    Great review.

  2. Can’t wait to play this game! Well, obviously I can wait, as it doesn’t come out until Friday…I need to move.

  3. Although I could pick it up on my way home from work, I have barely touched the first ME game, so I’ll probably wait for a price drop or sale or something before getting this one. Sounds like this will be a great incentive to push through some of the lackluster side-missions in the first game, though.

  4. Great, brutally honest review, Chris! I actually liked all the side-missions & lunar rover bits from the first, and the stripped down customization worries me. Otherwise, it looks awesome, definitely one of my next buys.

  5. I can’t believe the day I have been waiting for 2 years for has finally arrived! Thanks for the review Chris. I’m glad to hear the experience I’m about to enjoy is going to be an awesome one, though I never doubted it would be!

  6. I never really got into Mass Effect. I played about 5 hours of it and just never really wanted to pick it up again. This might have just changed my mind (at least going to play through 2 now).

  7. I loved the first Mass Effect, and am a huge Bioware fan, which pretty much means I’ll be picking up this sequel regardless. However, I do wish they hadn’t toned down the RPG features, as you stated. While it may provide for a more streamlined and simple experience, I find that the more depth a game has, the more satisfying the end result feels.

    Still, much of what you said excites me, especially the character-driven plot, and I can’t wait to play this next installment.

  8. avatar Wes

    So everything about ME1 that made it stand out as an RPG is gone and they “focused” on the FPS elements? If that was true why are half the squad commands you had in ME1 gone, the squad AI is horrible you’ll be popping med packs every 10 seconds on the harder difficulties. Yes you can order them to move to a spot but who they attack is their own choice, rate of fire is laughable and biotic and tech abilities share a gobal cooldown and feel identical and weak. So on harder difficulty levels you basically send in your wuss companions spam your special abilities cause your ammo is gone half way through any fight. So play the game on easy so you don’t suffer ammo attrition then it feels like an fps. Otherwise feels like a bad game.

  9. YYYES! I’m so hyped for this game – I have my Collectors’ edition en route!

  10. @Wes
    You can use the “up” on the direction pad to order them to attack a specific target, or if you map their abilities to the left or right arrow, you can use those to tell them to attack a specific person.

    Basically when I had boss fights, I would map their strongest abilities, and have us all focus fire using a heavy weapon. On hard I had no problem.

  11. All that I can say is that this workday cannot end quickly enough.

  12. Oh, Gamefly — how I love you for sending this on release date!

    • avatar Justin

      Brilliant game!!I came here convinced that the cmonapy of myself was also of you, and yet no. But after double checking i notice it’s the same music maker, so there must some kind of connection, isn’t there?Anyway, i long for other games of this kind!

  13. I am probably the only one here who will say, “Eh… not interested”

  14. avatar EA HATER

    Everything that made mass effect great is gone. Bioware sold out!

  15. @ EA Hater
    What made Mass Effect great? And what’s gone in this one?

  16. avatar Huh.

    @EA HATER
    Cool story, bro.
    Anyways, picking this up as soon as I possibly can. I can safely say I haven’t been anticipating a game so much in the last decade.

  17. Well, the game is missy alot RPG-wise that was present in the first game. And while I do occasionally miss checking the stats of everything I pick up, I think in the end it was for the best.

    • avatar Ziya

      In all events, today I wneatd to joking cover the theme of how and why Google clout get this pull up stakes, along with some communication in the service of anyone structure a directory in the future. Opening open, though, I’d like to scrutinize the directories that have been penalized. I’m trusty this isn’t an exhaustive directory (and if you be sure of more, feel unshackle to roster them in the comments), but it does act for present oneself a virtue sampling of the affected.

  18. avatar Darwin

    Import feature not dissapointing? I don’t get it. It’s like you never played ME1.

    With all those little encounters that make sense only if you import, ME2 managed to sell the “continue the story that begun in ME1 and move it into a trilogy” slogan to me. If it wasn’t for that, the game would feel pale I fear. Simplified and quite detached from the ME1 story (for the first 20 hours of the game at least), the RPG element is only saved by the characters living in the world. And you get a load more IF you have a ME1 save to import.

    So even though the main storyline remains the same, import or not, the tiny elements that fill the ME universe are worth having. They make ME universe YOUR universe.

    My opinion

  19. avatar Darwin

    Please ignore the ‘not’ in the first sentence of the above!!! I don’t know how it got there and it messed up my point 120%

    soz

  20. I agree, Chris was a little off the chart I think when he mentioned that your decisions from ME1 don’t effect you in ME2. It’s untrue.

    I’ve noticed heaps of small things, from story sequences, conversations, cut scenes and other elements that reflect on the choices I made in the first one.

    Absolutely amazing experience so far, I can’t see anything topping this for GOTY.

  21. avatar Facepalm

    Mass Effect 2 is a great game, but this: “BioWare practically invented an entirely new genre: “Story-Driven Shooter”.” is complete BS.

    What game isnt driven by its story? Serious Sam maybe.

  22. Still playing the **** out of this game, you guys should definitely do some sort of DLC review with the Hammerhead and Kasumi content coming up!

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