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Toastfarmer
04 Feb, 2010

Mass Effect 2 Review

360 Review | Massive and effective.
Though the original Mass Effect was a very good game, it was also a flawed one. The performance issues included horrid texture pop-in, very long elevator rides to cover loading and some rough slowdown, especially in combat. The repetitive locales in sidequests and the mountainous treks in the Mako buggy were drawbacks too. But Mass Effect's overall quality was such that it outshone these flaws. BioWare had conjured up an incredibly compelling science fiction universe in which humanity had just arrived on the galactic stage, desperate to make their mark. The alien designs, the smart dialogue and great voice acting, the memorable score and the sheer detail that had been injected into the fiction all contributed to crafting an immersive experience. The strength of the setting outweighed weaknesses in the gameplay. In Mass Effect 2, BioWare have stripped out the weaknesses and built upon the strengths. Just as Naughty Dog did with Uncharted 2, and Ubisoft with Assassin's Creed 2, BioWare have made Mass Effect 2 better than its predecessor in every possible way.

Naturally you'll again take on the role of the protagonist from the first game, the charismatic and fearless Commander Shepard. After a rather spectacular opening sequence your ship is destroyed, and Shepard is killed. Since that would make for a pretty short game you're brought back to life two years later by shady organisation Cerberus, led by the mysterious Illusive Man (voiced superbly by Martin Sheen). Cerberus have big plans for you: take down an insect-like alien race called the Collectors, who have been abducting entire human colonies. To do this you'll need a gang of the best the galaxy has to offer, and it's this recruitment drive that the game is structured around, as well as preparation for the suicide mission of taking the Collectors head on. While Mass Effect had half a dozen major story missions and plenty of tiny cut-and-paste ones, Mass Effect 2 is more evenly structured. Story missions are more frequent but shorter, and sidequests are less frequent but more involving. Particularly enjoyable are the loyalty quests you can choose to embark on for each of your party members in order to cement their allegiance to your cause.



Bad cop and bad cop.

Bad cop and bad cop.
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As many will be aware, you won't be taking on the role of just any Commander Shepard. You'll be playing as your Commander Shepard. Provided you have a completed save game from Mass Effect, you're able to import your Shepard's appearance, as well as the consequences of the decisions you made throughout the first game. This is one of the most innovative and exciting aspects of Mass Effect 2, and it works brilliantly. While there are three particular decisions the game takes note of, there are many references tied to smaller decisions too. While this is of less benefit to those who haven't played the first game, or for those whose memory of it is in the distant past, it's nonetheless incredibly satisfying. You can of course also start a Shepard from scratch. What is enticing is the promise that you'll be able to do the same thing for Mass Effect 3, making you think twice about what repercussions some of your decisions might have down the line.

Despite how very closely the two games connect to one another in terms of story and character, the gameplay feels rather different. The core mechanics are still present, of course, but just about everything has been tweaked, revamped and improved. The simplistic genius of the dialogue wheel acts in much the same way. On the right hand side of the wheel are paragon (good), neutral and renegade (bad) responses, with responses on the left hand side usually allocated to learning more information. You also now have access to special 'Paragon' or 'Renegade' actions in which you can interrupt a scene by pressing the left or right trigger to perform that action. It isn't used too often so it can take you by surprise, and the window of opportunity is inconsistent, but that's the nature of split-second decisions. The camera is no longer static during conversations, ramping up the game's already highly cinematic feel. Characters will move around and interact, with the player still in control of the flow of the conversation. Unsurprisingly, both the dialogue and voice acting are top notch, not only from the main cast, but in the various other characters you'll meet and overhear. Both the dialogue and voice acting for salarian party member Mordin Solus deserves special mention. Simply engaging in conversation is one of the most enjoyable things to do in this game. Even more compelling is the way all these different races interact with one another. Racism is an underlying theme throughout the game and, along with other ethical issues, is handled with intelligence and maturity. There's plenty of humour, and since Shepard is such a damn spunk, some romance too. Inter-species romance if you're lucky.


Mordin wonders whether he left the stove on.

Mordin wonders whether he left the stove on.
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Mass Effect 2 looks gorgeous, with no sign of the performance issues that plagued the first game. Loading times are sometimes lengthy, but at least you'll get flashy computer imagery instead of slow elevators. But it's the art direction and high production values as much as the graphical punch that contributes to Mass Effect 2's look. Both humans and aliens are meticulously detailed and fluidly animated. The environments are incredibly atmospheric too. Whenever you're in one of the dense commercial areas, like the seedy red glow of Omega or the shopping area of the Citadel, you can genuinely get a sense of being there. You'll always be listening to overheard conversations, personalised advertisements and news reports. Conversely, some areas are hauntingly isolated, with plenty of memorable locales which we won't spoil for you. The soundtrack is once again great, with orchestral majesty meeting with cold, pulsing synths to create a score that couldn't possibly be more evocative of science fiction.

Mass Effect 2's Gears Of War-esque combat has been polished up nicely. The new key element is the variety of shields enemies can possess, each which have an ability particularly suited to destroying them. Commanding squadmates to use abilities and sending them to specific spots has been made easier. Slightly odd is the way that ammunition has been retconned into Mass Effect 2 as opposed to overheating. It doesn't really add to or subtract from the gameplay, it just makes you wonder why BioWare bothered. Though you carry over your Shepard's appearance and decisions from the first game, you're able to select any of the six classes that you want, and these will influence the way you approach combat, and which party members will be of the most use to you. If you pick the Soldier class and have no biotic (psychic) abilities, you'll want to make sure you keep someone who does by your side. Shooter fans will enjoy the fact that headshots now actually count for something, and the array of special weapons are a lot of fun too.



Gears of Shepard.

Gears of Shepard.
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Some RPG elements from the original game have been axed for Mass Effect 2. Initially noticeable is that you're no longer awarded experience for each enemy you kill. Instead you'll get a lump sum of experience at the end of each mission, as well as a screen summarising what happened and what you picked up. Gone too is having a conventional inventory, which means no more comparing statistics to determine your best equipment. In terms of armour, only Shepard is able to be outfitted. Weapons are picked up only occasionally, and once you do pick one up, it becomes unlocked for the entire squad to use. Levelling up still earns points which can be invested into skills, but as opposed to the dozen or so areas in which you could invest points in Mass Effect, Mass Effect 2 puts only combat abilities in this department, which are tiered so that more points are required with each step up. To an extent this removes the feel of building a specialised character, which will disappoint some. On the other hand, when you max out an ability you can specialise it into one of two areas. The aspects of character building axed from this section are found in purchasing and researching upgrades. Instead of upgrading defence and weapons and cooldown for one party member at a time, you'll be doing it for your squad as a whole. It's simple, convenient and effective. But there's a catch. Much of the research requires resources. Resources means planet scanning.

And so we come to what is perhaps Mass Effect 2's only real drawback. Nearly every planet you come across can be scanned for one of four different metals. You simply run a reticule over a planet's surface, watching for spikes in a graph. When you see the spike, you launch a probe and extract the goodies. The interface is fancy but boy, does it get tedious. It's just so slow! A speed upgrade makes things more tolerable but it needs to be much faster to actually be enjoyable. You'll also find distress signals while planet scanning that lead to sidequests. The two mini-games used for hacking terminals and doors are fast and fun. We wish planet scanning was too.


Dress Shepard up for the dance... er, fight.

Dress Shepard up for the dance... er, fight.
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Right alongside ammo in the pointless new mechanic category is fuel, which you'll need for your born-again Normandy. You can purchase fuel cheaply from space stations. Of the two navigational screens in which you can steer your ship around the map (hooray) only one of them actually depletes your fuel, which makes little sense. It seems as though BioWare were trying to prevent the mechanic from being invasive, but we're again wondering why they included it at all. Speaking of the Normandy, it's a much bigger base of operations than the original. Seth Green returns as pilot Joker but more importantly, you have your own private quarters which can be customised with ship models and a fish tank (don't forget to feed them). Oh, and you can get a space hamster. That's right, a space hamster. Game of the year contender? You bet.

So the planet scanning is dull, and the ammunition and fuel mechanics pointless, but these are minor complaints in what is in total an excellent game. BioWare have outdone themselves. The game's look is magnificent, the fiction is deeper, the combat is smoother, and the RPG elements have been streamlined without being dumbed down. The ability to carry your Shepard over from the first game is a masterstroke and we can't wait to see how it plays out in Mass Effect 3. Mass Effect 2 has been a very ambitious undertaking from BioWare and we're glad to say that they have pulled it off with style.
The Score
BioWare have not only built up a fascinating, rich universe, they've made another fantastic game in which you get to be a part of it. A masterful piece of video game storytelling and a great action RPG to boot. 9
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

Related Mass Effect 2 Content

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03 Apr, 2011 Was it worth the wait?
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19 Mar, 2011 Arriving very, very soon.
Mass Effect 2 PS3 demo hits PSN next week
14 Dec, 2010 Demo the trilogy on the triple.
37 Comments
4 years ago
Insanely good game, and I've only really just started it!
At work now icon_pout.gif ; all I can think about is going back home to play. icon_exclaim.gif
4 years ago
Wow, nice title.
I'm playing mass effect 1 to get a save for mass effect 2 since i lost my old one...argh i only got till mondays when studies start to finish both games :'(
Is the pre-order armor worth hooking my 360 up to the router for it?
4 years ago
Quote
Provided you have a completed save game from Mass Effect, you're able to import your Shepard's appearance, as well as the consequences of the decisions you made throughout the first game.
So is it only the appearance and good/evil stuff that gets ported over from a previous save? My biggest issue with the original, and what made it an 'OK' game instead of great, was the horrible class balancing. I played as the Jedi equivalent (can't remember the name) in the hope of reliving KOTOR, but it was so horribly underdone that the game was practically punishing me for not choosing a combat-focused class. If I can keep my old character but go with a new class I'd be happy, or be reassured that they've fixed the class balancing this time.

edit: just looked it up, I was a Sentinel, mixing the 'magic' and tech powers. I remember watching the review of ME on the Totally Rad Show and Jeff was shocked at the game receiving 9-9.5s everywhere as he was so disappointed in how broken the combat system (amongst other things) was. Funnily enough he'd played as a Sentinel as well.
4 years ago
You can change your class, Spanca.

And really? Adepts were unbelievably badass by the end of it. Singularity was the ME1 gamebreaker.
4 years ago
A good review. I'd personally give this one a 9.5 without second thought though; it's one of the best games I've played in a long time.
4 years ago
Have to say I really do miss the traditional BioWare inventory system. It really is such an integral part of the game, when it's removed it feels so different.

I would have preferred to keep the weapon overheating instead of ammo as well.......

It just feels to simple to be an RPG, more the Third Person Shooter with RPG elements.
4 years ago
there's a few things that port over. Obviously the various decisions you made in the first game, but also things that are mostly to do with the achievements you achieved.
Rich - gives you some starting credits.
Paragon and Renegade - gives you some starting Paragon/Renegade points. (this isn't explicitly tied to the achievements - but it's like you get 10% of however many P/R points you had, or something).
Power Gamer - gives you some starting XP (Extreme Power Gamer might also give something, but i didn't have a complete game save at level 60, so i couldn't tell you for sure)

the 2 DLC's Achievements might also give some bonuses to start, but I haven't got them.

---
i actually quite like the planet scanning. it's kinda soothing - if you mute the sound when doing it.
it might just be that i'm a geophysicist irl, and it is, essentially, an overly simplified take on what i do for my pay-cheque, but i find it pretty cool.
or maybe i'm just sad that i get excited by finding triple-spikes.
4 years ago
Dude, you found a triple spike? I'm jealous. I figure I'm lucky if I get two.
4 years ago
I heard you can pick what you did in the previous game, because i have to replay mass effect 1 all over, i'm mainly wanting story-type from mass effect 1 to carry over, stats dont bother me, so whats the diffrence really?
4 years ago
Without spoiling anything for you, fairly early on, you are in a 'briefing' situation where Shepard has to remember some things from his past like who he chose as the human council member or who lived or died on Virmire. Stuff like that carries over.
4 years ago
Michael Pincott wrote
Mass Effect 2 Review by Toastfarmer
PALGN Review: Massive and effective.
[View Article]

il show you something Massive and ineffective.

wait wait that didn't come out right icon_dead.gif
4 years ago
Whilst you get to pick your main choices during the breifing session, lots of the little things you did can't be changed.
You will meet minor characters who will react differently depending on how you completed certain missions in the first game (both the minor and major ones).
Otherwise, overall a fantastic game. Although it irritates me that tech seems to have gone backwards in that weapons now need 'thermal clips'. The explanation for unlimited ammo in the first one was decent, though I suppose they needed to change it to balance the improved combat system.
I prefer the new combat but little things like that really bug me icon_razz.gif
4 years ago
Oh man? ammo? please tell me there is better melee to fix that since i'm guessing i can run out of ammo?
4 years ago
Dabi wrote
Oh man? ammo? please tell me there is better melee to fix that since i'm guessing i can run out of ammo?
Not really. Don't run out of ammo.

(It's not that hard to avoid running out of ammo.)
4 years ago
Yes Dabi, there is now a good melee.
I playing as a Vanguard: Charge power, melee, shotgun - BOOM!
Just go and buy the game!
Seriously you won't be disappointed.
4 years ago
Allready got it richie, but im playing mass effect 1 speed-run to play mass effect 2 since i lost my old save.
At the bit where i gotta meet that creature in the colonist place, so long to go...rawrghhhh
4 years ago
gotcha. hurry up! icon_smile.gif
4 years ago
I'm trying i'm trying :'( this feels like torture since i'm not trying to enjoy the game, just finish it so i can experience mass effect 2 to the fullist..i just want to cheat but i cant >.<
4 years ago
Dabi, don't rush. You'll have more and more fun with ME2 if you take your time with ME1 and finish as much as possible.
4 years ago
Spanca wrote
Quote
Provided you have a completed save game from Mass Effect, you're able to import your Shepard's appearance, as well as the consequences of the decisions you made throughout the first game.
So is it only the appearance and good/evil stuff that gets ported over from a previous save? My biggest issue with the original, and what made it an 'OK' game instead of great, was the horrible class balancing. I played as the Jedi equivalent (can't remember the name) in the hope of reliving KOTOR, but it was so horribly underdone that the game was practically punishing me for not choosing a combat-focused class. If I can keep my old character but go with a new class I'd be happy, or be reassured that they've fixed the class balancing this time.

edit: just looked it up, I was a Sentinel, mixing the 'magic' and tech powers. I remember watching the review of ME on the Totally Rad Show and Jeff was shocked at the game receiving 9-9.5s everywhere as he was so disappointed in how broken the combat system (amongst other things) was. Funnily enough he'd played as a Sentinel as well.
I'm finding the class balancing is a lot better than the original - particularly on the higher difficulties where enemies more commonly have Armour or Biotic protection, using Tech/Biotic powers against them is a lot more effective than weapons. Furthermore, most Tech/Biotic powers can be 'evolved' be either be extra strong, or have an area of effect. Cooldowns are also dramatically reduced.
4 years ago
God, this game was nearly perfect in so many ways. The atmosphere and galaxy they have brought to life is amazing.

The only problem is that it suffers middle game/movie syndrome where it sets up lots of stuff for the 3rd game and you feel a bit dissapointed that nothing OMG huge happens at the end.
4 years ago
I can state that as an Engineer, the game is highly enjoyable. I won't say which level, but one of them, as an engineer I felt like a freaking powerhouse. I strolled through it, sowing disorder and confusion in my wake. Glorious.
4 years ago
ObsoletE wrote
i actually quite like the planet scanning. it's kinda soothing - if you mute the sound when doing it.
it might just be that i'm a geophysicist irl, and it is, essentially, an overly simplified take on what i do for my pay-cheque, but i find it pretty cool.
or maybe i'm just sad that i get excited by finding triple-spikes.
Hey me too!
Well, not the geophysicist stuff, but I've used enough oscilloscopes and watched enough arbitrary waveforms whilst prodding around various circuits. There's a certain satisfaction to seeing your meaningless waveform suddenly spike into some sort of result.
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  28/01/2010 (Confirmed)
Publisher:
  Electronic Arts
Genre:
  Action RPG
Year Made:
  2008
Players:
  1

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