Thursday, 4 March 2010

Mass Effect 2 - Review


Upon seeing the initial trailers for the original Mass Effect way back before its release I was instantly intrigued, unfortunately I didn’t (and still don’t) own an X-Box 360. A while later its PC port was announced, unfortunately by that point I had forgotten about it and lost interest. Last December I noticed it was on offer on Steam so I decided I may as well try it. I was far from disappointed. Thoroughly enjoyed the game (save for the notorious vehicle sections) and by the time I’d finished it Mass Effect 2 was already on approaching fast, I pre-ordered the special edition without a second’s hesitation.

For the unenlightened amongst you Mass Effect is a series created by Bioware (Knights of the Old Republic, Dragon Age: Origins), the original set in 2183 and the sequel two years after. Humans have discovered the ruins of an ancient alien race dubbed the Protheans and using their technology have learnt how to achieve faster-than-light travel using a physics phenomenon called Mass Effect. Upon achieving this they have been able to discover another Prothean technology, Mass Relays which can transport you thousands of light-years in a few seconds (similar to warp gates on EVE: Online). After a brief war with a humanoid alien race called the Turians humanity achieved galactic status and access to the citadel, a gigantic space station also created by the Protheans and maintained by a mysterious race called the keepers. Being the newcomers humanity is prone to xenophobia by other races and is often resented.

You take control of Commander Shepard who you can customise from name, to gender, to class, to appearance and personal history, just a foreshadowing of how much depth this series has. Shepard has been put forward to become the first human spectre, an elite group of agents under the Special Tactics and Reconnaissance Branch of the citadel who are above galactic law and act as they see fit. Anyway, I’ll shut up now and get to the actual review before I get spoilerish.


For the most part, gameplay in Mass Effect 2 sticks with the old “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” and keeps very similar to the first, cover based fighting, it feels a tad more fluid and polished than the first which is a welcome change however. When not exchanging bullets you are likely going to be exchanging conversation (or insults if you take the renegade route), Mass Effect 2 is a very conversation heavy game, if that ain’t your bag then I wouldn’t advise this game for you.

True to Bioware, during conversation you will get an option how to respond, usually consisting of a friendly approach, a neutral one or an aggressive one, upon choosing the friendly or aggressive approach you will often be rewarded with paragon or renegade points respectively, these later unlock more conversation options. Some missions also present you with a choice, the choice often resulting in more of these points.

For the most part this works but sometimes it can feel a little bit black and white which is more of a fault of all games of this nature, not just ME2.
A welcome change is the lack of the vehicle sections, instead of the Mako you now launch probes to planets and scan for information and materials for upgrades to your ship, weapons and armour.

Another change, which in my opinion isn’t quite so welcome, is they have severely toned down the RPG elements, characters and significantly less powers, experience is now only gotten from missions and no longer from killing enemies and weapons and armour no longer have stats instead you can choose between a fully automatic gun or a burst fire (which could have equally been achieved with a alt fire button). While this may be a good thing in some peoples’ eyes I personally miss the more RPG feel.


Very few games have a story quite as compelling as the Mass Effect series in my opinion, it keeps you hooked all the way through and you always have the incentive to play to find out what happens next. There are plenty of plot twists and turns to keep you guessing and the characterisation is fantastic.

Despite being from all manner of alien races the characters, ironically, all feel far more human than the characters you get in the likes of Gears of War and Call of Duty. They all have their own personalities, their strengths, their flaws just as any real human would. During the free time between missions you can wander your ship and talk to them, discuss the mission, their history, their feelings, you can genuinely really attached to them and when the “suicide mission” arrives you don’t want them to die and try to do everything in your power to stop that from happening. As with the first romancing is available and this just extends the connection more, often after romancing the character will open up even more to you giving them even more depth.


Whilst the graphics are far from terrible, they aren’t the best out there. They’re nice and some of the areas have amazing landscapes and vistas, they get the job done nicely but they don’t quite live up to some other games out at the moment. The character models are detailed though, facial expressions seem as natural as they would in real life, overall a very nice presentation but nothing exceptional.


The musical score really sets the mood well, feels quite spacey and techno and suited to the game environment and it can really help you feel the heat during a battle; not quite as epic as something you’d expect from Final Fantasy or Zelda but still pretty good nonetheless

The voice acting is one of the areas the series really shines, with the big name actors like Martin Sheen as The Illusive Man and Seth Green returning as Joker right down to the minor characters you literally have a three line conversation with, every line is delivered faultlessly and seems perfectly natural. Truly fantastic performance.


Overall ME2 is without question a worthy sequel and a significant improvement on the original. Fully recommended if you enjoyed the first.

+ Excellent story and voice acting
+ Enjoyable gameplay
+ Brilliant characterisation
+ Well implemented choice system
- Might be a little too conversation heavy for some
- Lack of RPG elements can make it feel a little diluted compared to the first.

“I had reach, she had the flexibility” ~ Garrus

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