STAFF REVIEW of Mass Effect 2 (Xbox 360)

Monday, February 1, 2010.
by Adam Dileva

Mass Effect 2 Box art It?s been a long wait but the sequel to Mass Effect has finally arrived with much anticipation by its fans to delve further into Shepard?s tale and the surrounding universe. I was quite surprised to see how much Bioware truly did listen to the fans and critics about flaws from the first game due to the hugely improved gameplay and story telling, but I won?t get ahead of myself, let?s delve into the general story that surrounds Mass Effect 2.

It?s been two years since the conclusion of Mass Effect left us hanging; wondering what will happen with Shepard next. It?s been two years since then and Commander Shepard is still on patrol for geth on distant planets when suddenly the Normandy comes under attack by an unknown adversary without warning and some very dramatic scenes occur (as to not spoil anything) that may have you wondering what?s going to happen next.

Two years pass since this attack and Shepard is forced to awake only to learn of a new threat to the galaxy that he (or she in my case) will have to face. What makes this new threat so much more dangerous than the geth were is that complete colonies of humans are being abducted without warning and no one knows why; that is until you meet someone who calls himself The Illusive Man.

The Illusive Man runs a ruthless organization called Cerberus who seems to be mankinds only hope for survival; no matter the collateral damage. Due to the fate that the original Normandy met with, Shepard gains command of a new vessel and must set out to refill the ranks with the most elite squad you?ll ever command. Even with all the new fire power and new allies, the mission is deemed a suicide mission; Shepard intends to prove them wrong and do whatever is needed to save the galaxy against this new threat.

Obviously I don?t want to give any major plot points away so I won?t say much more as I found the story to be completely engrossing and enjoyed it even more-so than the first game. All you need to know is that something life changing happens to Shepard and that he must follow his new boss? ?orders? by recruiting a new team and that anything must be done to stop the Collectors. It?s up to you how much you want to trust the Illusive Man and how much you choose to do the ?right? thing.

One of the big unique features Mass Effect 2 is boasting is the ability to import your previous character from Mass Effect 1. While this sounds like an awesome idea by just saying that, there are some catches to how this feature works. While yes you can import your max level character from the first game, the catch is that you don?t actually play that character in Mass Effect 2. Depending on how high level your character was, that is the basis of how much of a bonus and head start you will gain in Mass Effect 2.

Basically, the higher your character was the more bonus xp (and levels), money, and resources you will start the game off with. A great choice to this import feature is that you aren?t completely stuck with your previous character if there was something you didn?t like about them. This means you can completely change your class and even your appearance should you wish to. The import bonus? are quite nice (an imported level 60 Shepard starts off at level 5 and bonus Paragon and Renegade points) and even play into one of the achievements as well; the Long Service achievement requires the game to be completed twice or just once with an imported Shepard.

So let?s talk about what?s new and improved with the sequel. Foremost, the cover mechanic has been much improved which ties in with the new health system. Now when you take damage, you must find cover and wait for it to regenerate instead of the old way of using a medi-gel to heal yourself. Medi-gel is now primarily used to revive downed teammates (though with upgrades they will simultaneously heal to full as well).

The minigames for hacking and such have also slightly changed as well. There are two different types of hacking and unlocking in Mass Effect 2; one simply matching corresponding symbols within the allotted time and the slightly more challenging one that has you scanning a moving board and you need to pick the matching ?code fragment? without choosing the wrong one or highlighting the ones that are specifically crossed out.

Gone are the annoying Dune Buggy levels that sometimes didn?t even yield much usefulness. Now when you are using the Galaxy Map and looking at various planets you simply hold the Left Trigger to start scanning the area of the planet you are aimed at and when the readings on the charts start to spike and vibrate you can press the Right Trigger and a pod will automatically land on the planet and send the corresponding resources back up to your ship. These precious resources (4 different types) are what?s used to upgrade your weapons, armor, ship, and even certain skills.

As you fill your squad, there are also optional people are you choose to recruit as well. On top of these, there is also an optional side quest to ?help? them which will gain that person?s loyalty to Shepard and thus gaining an additional unique combat skill. Some characters from the first Mass Effect will also return (obviously based on your choices if you imported) and it was quite astonishing to see Wrex (I didn?t kill him in Mass Effect 1) and Garrus among others. There are even some characters you?ld never expect to group with that will join you on your hunt against the Collectors as well which was one of the biggest ?wow? moments in the game for me.

One of the biggest gripes with the first game was the overly long ?loading? elevator rides going from area to area. This mechanic has been nixed for a more traditional loading screen although it is animated and will give game hints to read while loading. With the game installed on the hard drive it was on par with any other game which was quite a relief.

The popular Paragon and Renegade dialogue options return but a great new addition is an option to sometimes completely interrupt a dialogue cinematic with either choice provided you are quick enough to react (since it?s actually meant as an interrupt in most scenes). It adds more depth to the already exhaustive dialogue and brings you more into it instead of feeling like you are simply viewing a cinematic.

Mass Effect 2 is substantially more shooter focused than Mass Effect 1 and has a little less of the role playing elements. Due to this, it feels like it takes much longer to progress your character and you are only able to level up Shepard after a mission, not during.

Even the weapons and the system it uses have undergone a dramatic change. No longer do you have to worry about different types of ammo for multiple types of weapons; now you have a single and universal way of getting ammunition for your weapons. Technically your weapons have unlimited ammo but you are actually gathering cooling rods so that the weapons don?t overheat (and become unusable without them). It?s a similar mechanic many other thirst person shooters embrace and I actually prefer it quite more than the old system.

Also, in Mass Effect there were only 4 or so types of different weapons, now in Mass Effect 2 there are almost twenty. Many guns (like pistol for example) have a subset or more such (such as heavy pistol) that will favor either faster rate of fire or more damage. Heavy weapons now replace the old grenades and some of them are actually quite unique (such as the one that shoots a black hole or one that even lobs a unique miniature-like nuke. Also, characters that are able to use certain weapon sets can make full use of them and no longer been to train skills in each weapon to be proficient in them.

Skills have also undergone a slight change and have a 4 rank system in place that can be upgraded. When you upgrade to the fourth and final rank of a skill you are given a choice to choose between 2 different ways to alter the skill (such as more health or more damage). It gives it a little bit more of a personal touch to your character and squad and you can develop that perfect group even further.

Should you splurge and choose to get the Collector Edition of Mass Effect 2, Bioware will give you a bunch of bonus material for the extra cash. Other than the game itself you get an impressive hardcover art book that has some great insight and art to the world of Mass Effect, a miniature #1 issue of the Mass Effect comic book, and the standard tin case that we?ve come to expect from any Collector Edition.

On top of these physical items you also get some digital ones to go along with it as well. Foremost, you get a Cerberus Network card that gains you access to bonus (and free) download content such as the newly released content that gives you a new squad member should you do the quest. You also gain the Chitinious armor set that gives you some massive stat boosts starting out along with a special Assault Rifle that tends to eat through enemy shields.

No game is without its faults and while very few, the graphical glitches and clipping seemed to always happen in the most noticeable spots. Coupled along with repetitive dialogue choices and a final boss fight that wasn?t what I was expecting; there is still an amazing gaming experience to be had here and its going to be quite challenging for Mass Effect 3 to top this moving experience.

Not enough praise can be given to everything audio related in the game. The sounds the ship makes, the music score that bring the perfect ambiance (especially the club music that fits the look of the club perfectly) and of course the absolute exemplary performance every voice actor pulled off.

The ending of Mass Effect was a cliffhanger for Mass Effect 2, but I?m not sure how I?m going to bear the wait for Mass Effect 3 with the cliff hanger we?re given at the end of this chapter; many questions need to be answered. Mass Effect 2 is an exemplary cinematic experience blended with refined gameplay that make for a sequel that needs to be in everyone?s collection. Bioware has done it again; and even better this time.

Overall: 9.6 / 10
Gameplay: 9.5 / 10
Visuals: 9.5 / 10
Sound: 10.0 / 10


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