Mass Effect is one of the Xbox 360’s major console exclusive titles. It was, with little actual reason, shrouded with some controversy regarding mature scenes in the game, but it didn’t really effect the game in anyway. The sequel, developed by Bioware for the Xbox 360 and PC, adds a few more of those mature scenes but includes so much more.
From the start there’s a sense of familiarity, which isn’t a great surprise as the game starts a few short months after the original game, showing familiar faces and settings in the first epic cut-scene. That sense of familiarity doesn’t really extend much further than a narrative point though. The gameplay in Mass Effect 2 has been reworked entirely from the ground up. A few details are identical to the original game, but most have been changed so vastly they scarcely seem similar to the original game.
Much of the gameplay and controls has been changed so the gameplay seems more similar to Gears of War than any other RPG. For the most part this has helped the game. Using cover is far easier now than it was in the original game, which was absolute garbage if I’m to be honest. Mapping three of your special abilities to buttons for on the fly abilities allow for playing to your abilities viable quick. Even giving orders to your allies is improved much by allowing you to give individual orders.
The fault with this major change is that it also comes with many changes to the way armor and weapons are used in the game. You don’t get loot from killing enemies anymore or get to customize your weapons or armor of your allies as you were able to. All allies have the same armor for the entire game with one different color scheme after finishing a quest with them.
You get a handful of weapons, none of which are really clear upgrades, just different choices. There isn’t any ability to customize specific things with upgrades, just broad spectrum upgrades gained a few ways. There is a nice change of being able to visually change your armor but, much like the weapons, there is no real progression in weaponry, just different choices.
Ultimately these changes make Mass Effect 2 more of a third person shooter with RPG elements than a RPG with third person shooter elements like Mass Effect 1 was. Even the leveling and stat distribution is simplified greatly. It’s a mixed bag of great changes, and not so great changes. I can only hope Mass Effect 3 brings together a combination of elements from the first and second game to make a perfect balance.
The game’s visual design is really something impressive. All of the characters, levels, and weapons are visually stunning, much more than the original was. Most of the characters from the first game are largely unchanged, but some subtle changes, to Tali in particular, give a nice depth of how much time has passed in the game. The change from the more generic levels while exploring from the first game are gone, instead replaced with well designed unique levels, some of which are incredibly epic in their setting.
Part of this design, in large, is due to the writing. The game’s story itself isn’t incredibly original, and seems somewhat similar to Dragon Age to me. At the core, they’re the same. A great evil is coming, you are the universe’s best hope from stopping this evil, so you must create a small army and fortify it as much as possible before fighting that great evil. There are variations here and there, but in the end it’s kind of like finding the similarities between Avatar and Ferngully or Pocahontas.
What saves the game’s story is the way Bioware has continued the storylines from the first game to the second one by means of the character import feature, as well as the incredibly character writing. Small sidequests continue into Mass Effect 2 as you left them in the original game. On a whole some don’t effect the outcome of the game, but they can greatly effect the story. Killing a major character in the first game creates ripples. This is great for returning players, but for people who are picking up the game from the sequel there’ll likely be a loss of connection between the vital characters in the game.
While all of the main characters from the first game make appearances in the story(unless they died from one of your choices), only a few actually join your party. A majority of the party is filled up with new characters. Characters like Jack, Thane, Mordin and Grunt are really incredible in their stories and emotional depth. The loyalty missions you do turn into some of the strongest narrative points in the game. Creating this emotional attachments with these characters make the ending of the game even more frustrating if they end up dying in the final fight due to your poor choices or lack of preparation, doubly so with the game’s annoying cliffhanger.
What helps the great characterization even more is the immense, yet amazing, cast. Mass Effect 2 features some great voice actors, a few of which you might be familiar with in real life. Both Adam Baldwin and Yvonne Strahovski from Chuck lend their voices(and likeness in Yvonne’s case) to characters in the game. Tricia Helfer, from Battlestar Galactica fame, plays as the Normandy’s AI, often interacting with Seth Green’s character throughout the course of the game. Michael Hogan, also from Battlestar Galactica, as well as Michael Dorn, known for his role as Worf in Star Trek, Carrie-Anne Moss, Trinity from The Matrix, Martin Sheen, as well as the returning Keith David also round out the great cast amongst many other voice actors whose work you know but might not recognize by name.
Mass Effect 2 is a great sequel, but far from a good definition of a perfect sequel. Some of the changes to the game create a much more entertaining experience, but make Mass Effect 2 a very poor representation of an RPG. The story, while somewhat of a copy of Dragon Age, is strong due to the great continuation of even some of the most minor stories and choices from the original game, but ends with an unfortunate cliffhanger. This connection is great for returning players, but might leave new players a bit confused. The characters in the game are strong, if not slightly cliched, emphasized by great cast of actors and amazing dialogue. For it’s flaws, Mass Effect 2 is a great game, and I highly recommend it.