Entertainment, Software Programs

Mass Effect 2: Game of the year already?

Bioware has been a powerhouse in the PC Role Playing Game genre since its second game, Baldur?s Gate, in 1998. Since then it has released other RPG standards such as Baldur?s Gate 2, Neverwinter Nights and its subsequent expansions, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, and most recently Dragon Age: Origins.  Bioware has been at the forefront of the RPG genre with their intuitive use of dialog trees and modifying the dungeons and dragons rule set to work in real-time on the pc. In 2007 Bioware released another evolutionary title, Mass Effect – the first in a Trilogy of Mass Effect games. ME1 was revolutionary because it combined RPG gear collection, stat management, class based play style, large scale exploration and chat trees with the third person shooter genre.

Mass Effect 2 starts right where ME1 left off. You play as Commander Sheppard, a human who saved the galaxy in ME1. As the game is squad based you start by completing missions to recruit the most powerful strike team in the galaxy.

Gameplay Fusion
For starters, we have a disclaimer to make. Unlike the standard movie trilogies, Bioware went in o create an interesting interactive experience that will change the game experience. For instance, gameplay for this article was done mostly on Microsoft’s Xbox 360 console. The reason for this decision was simple – I had played through the first Mass Effect on my Xbox and Mass Effect 2 allows players who have completed Mass Effect 1 to import their save games to make Mass Effect 2 reflect the important decisions they made in the first game. Naturally, you do not need to use this feature as it is completely optional. However, going for it does allow for a seamless gameplay experience that flows and continues to make the player feel like his decisions mattered in the first game. Just to reiterate, the game is very similar on both platforms and is well worth the purchase price for PC or Xbox 360 [$50 pc, $60 Xbox 360].

PC or a console: If you opt to go with a PC version, you pay $10 less and can enjoy higher fidelity
PC or a console: If you opt to go with a PC version, you pay $10 less and can enjoy higher fidelity

In order to compare the gameplay between the console and PC platform, we have played some of the game on PC and the gameplay was truly excellent on that platform as well. PC gamers have greater freedom at choosing level of detail and the resolution, leading to much greater fidelity when compared with a gaming console.

Comparison of changes from Mass Effect 1 addendum for ME1 players:
 Mass Effect 1 was lauded for its combination of traditionally mutually exclusive game types. ME1 combined all its RPG and shooter elements very well with a few minor missteps. Bioware heeded the criticisms it received about some of the quirky complaints ME1 received. For example, instead of extensive load screens ME1 used elevator rides between zones; the elevator rides were often broken up by [often hilarious] banter between party members who didn?t like each other. These Elevator rides also contributed to the sense that you were in enormous futuristic structures. But in ME2 these elevator rides have been replaced with loading screens that seem to last longer than any of the elevator rides and also are generic and boring to look at, all the text on the load screen is blurred and shows the same animations on a loop. In the end the load screens are very monotonous and break up the game play. while the elevators where almost a joke about the future in that you could be in the middle of an important mission that required immediate action but because of the enormous size of structures that you still had to stand in an elevator [with elevator music] waiting for the gates of hell to open back up.

There were also some complaints about the weapon / armor system. Comparing the system used in ME1 to ME2 would cause one to assume that most of the complaints were about complexity. The system in ME1 had different grades of weapons made by different manufacturers which had focus on different approaches to weapon design. For example, one manufacturer may favor heavy hitting weapon that fired slower than another company?s gun, or armor that favored more shields than armor or less shields and faster shield recharge. The entire gear system from ME1 was thrown out, the new system uses individual pieces of armor that modify individual stats making the game a little easier and choosing different guns that either hold more ammo, more accurate, fire faster, or hit harder. The failing of this system is that you don?t ever feel the need to have to change from the load out you start the game with. You can even complete the game without changing a single piece of armor or changing any of the weapons.

Gripping gameplay
When looking at the Galaxy navigation map you see floating tabs telling what missions are where. The interface is very easy to use and never leaves you feeling like you don?t know what locale to travel to next. The missions are all very well scripted, you always have a good idea of where you are going to find the objective and you always feel engaged. The games story is excellent, but definitely leaves the opening for Mass Effect 3. The game is much more action orientated than ME1, it is basically the first in a new genre, the story-shooter. Its action portions are comprised of third-person, over the shoulder, shooting segments combined with the use of "mass effect powers" that vary pursuant to the different classes that are the player has either chosen to play as or to include on their team. These powers are allow for interesting tactical gameplay. They are accessed by accessing a popup menu system [accessed differently depending on platform] that allows for three powers to be queued [one per team mate] for use as soon as you leave the menu. This system allows the gameplay to seem fluid and remain fun.

Who will outsmart who?
Who will outsmart who?

ME2 is definitely driven by the decisions and actions you take during the conversational sections of the game. ME2 uses a "text-wheel" to choose chat responses. The wheel allows for up to six different responses; two Neutral, two Paragon [lawful good, Moral] and two Renegade [chaotic good, anything to get the mission complete] options. The text shown doesn?t usually represent exactly what is going to be said but more an idea that a certain option will convey to whoever you are talking to.  It looks like the trademark in this Trilogy of games will be keeping the track of what responses you make and dramatically change the story and determine which of the multiple endings you see. Your choices definitely mean a lot when you get to the end, the whole game you are aware that you are on a suicide mission and you can actually not survive your mission depending on your decisions. Thi
s weighs on your decisions and really does make you think before you say or do something.

Problems? What problems?
There are a few problems with the gameplay, such as the mining/research system that you use to earn upgrades to make the game easier. Mining breaks up the gameplay, is boring and repetitive should the player decide to endure it to get the bonuses awarded using the research system. The research part of the game uses resources you mine to buy different pieces of technology to upgrade your team?s items. Although it isn?t necessary to mine/research to complete the game, it does serve to make the game more enjoyable during the action portions of the game giving you an upper hand in combat.

Tearing through alien flesh and bones...
Tearing through alien flesh and bones…

All of these elements combine to make Mass Effect 2 an excellent game definitely worth playing, replaying, and replaying again. The Locales look amazing and provide for a surreal travel around the Galaxy. Its gameplay is well balanced, allows the player many different ways to accomplish their goals all while making the player feel like a badass.

Compared to ME1, Bioware definitely slimmed the RPG right out of ME2. Its gameplay has been streamlined for more mainstream players who want more action less talking and deciding what armor to wear. It?s a no brainer for EA/Bioware considering ME2 is a Triple A title that is a major investment, which they would like to make money on. A seasoned ME1 fan may be disappointed in the changes, BUT, should still play ME2 just because it continues the Mass Effect legacy of excellent story telling involving hard moral decisions. For all the reasons above, we have no gripes with the decision to give this game an Editor’s Choice award in the field of Home Entertainment.

BSN* Editor's Choice for Home Entertainment 2010