Mass Effect 2 is the sequel to a game that received the 2007 game of the year award from The New York Times, best RPG awards from IGN, Yahoo Games and the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences, and many other awards from the gaming community. I would say that, at least in this area, the Mass Effect lore is comparable to that of Star Wars, but, unlike Star Wars events which happened ‘a long time ago’, Mass Effect is set in the future, the year 2183 to be exact, when destiny reveals its great plans for Commander Sheppard in a universe full of incredible planets and species.
Mass Effect 2 continues after Sheppard faced the extra-galactic threat, and, without spoiling, i’ll tell you the scenario is built in such a way that you’re allowed to benefit from the character you developed in Mass Effect 1 by importing the saves, but also ensuring an equitable beginning for everyone. You’ll also find that decisions you made in the first part will impact what happens in the sequel, sometimes quite seriously, and especially where ex or future team members’ evolutions are concerned. The classes are the same as in ME1 (Adept, Infiltrator, Vanguard, Sentinel, Engineer and Soldier) and you’ll be given the opportunity to change your class even if you imported the saves.
You can, of course, become ‘good’ or ‘bad’ by increasing your paragon or renegade levels (which don’t necessarily exclude each other). This happens automatically depending on what decisions you make and how you navigate through conversations. The innovation here is that being paragon or renegade not only unlocks special conversations options (e.g. persuasion or intimidation) but now also allows you to take instant action as events unfold, provided you notice the window of opportunity and use it before it disappears. Additionally, the level-up screen is changed from ME1 and it may seem a bit counter-intuitive at first, but it’s actually a nice and proportional representation of your progress. Each ability requires more and more points for you to be able to reach its next level, so, at times, if you want to improve a specific ability before the others you might have some extra points you won’t be able to spend. It’s up to you to figure out a balance between being good at everything and being good at something in particular, and the way you do this should also take into account what class you’ve chosen. In case you’re not satisfied with how you distributed your points, at some moment in the game you’ll have the possibility to invest in a specific research project that redistributes them, in a lab on Normandy (your ship).
Fig. 1 – The level-up screen
Talking about research projects, we get to the economic aspect of the game. There are, of course, credits, which allow you to do most things, but as a new element ME2 introduces the ships ability to mine for certain metals or materials (Palladium, Iridium, Platinum and the rare Element-Zero) through specialized probes which can be launched by the ship when situated near planets. Scanning for these resources is done manually, from orbit, and sometimes anomalies might be discovered, even leading to special missions.
Fig. 2 – Scanning a planet for resources
Various quantities of these resources can be spent to unlock research projects, which improve your fighting/tech equipment or your ship. Even choosing what research to invest in will have repercussions later in the game, so think strategically
As in ME1, you gain your team members’ loyalty by accomplishing missions usually related to their status prior to meeting you. Depending on how you fight, what decisions you make and which missions you accomplish, you’ll receive achievements (as medals) which you can view in the captain’s cabin – your own private place on the ship where you can do all kinds of leisurely stuff. This brings me to the improved sense of realism the game has. For example, a subtle detail but with a very immediate feel to it is seeing coffee machines on tables. Even the mini-games used to hack datapads or gain access to various rooms are surprisingly realistic towards their purpose: to bypass security you work on an actual circuit and to hack code you match actual snippets of code. There are other mini-games and puzzles spread throughout the game, some tied to non-essential assignments but some vital to the mission.
Fig. 3 – Bypassing security
Fig. 4 – Hacking code
The combat system is kind of new in ME2, although you can use powers in the same way: you now need thermal clips instead of your weapon just cooling down on its own – the heat generated when you fire your weapon goes into those clips. This is another realistic part because sometimes you might run out of them in mid-battle, so you’ll have to spot some and avoid enemy fire until you get there; or you can change weapons. When you get cover, if you’re crouched and your cover isn’t very tall you can jump over it taking advantage of a pause in enemy fire. Jumping to the unrealistic part, you can also revive your teammates by using the Unity power, but that’s no reason to complain However, it can be fun to measure up alone against your opponents. Controlling your squad’s position can be done individually now, so you can either put them out of harm’s way, use them as a vanguard or place them strategically depending on how you want to engage your enemy (sometimes luring them out of their original location is a good tactic).
Fig. 5 – Evil robots from outer space? They’ll never know what hit them…
The DLC (downloadable content) system is pretty interesting itself. Some DLCs are available as add-ons and offer extra missions:
● Zaeed Massani offers a new character with the same name, adding to the game missions and stories
● Firewalker gives you an assault vehicle that allows you to hover over the battlefield, and it includes a few missions for you test it out
These are available as part of the Cerberus Network, which also includes extra weapons and assault gear. The Cerberus Network is a new kind of DLC portal that allows you to download its content for free as long as you’re subscribed to it. Retail purchasers should already have a network card with the Cerberus redeem code in it, otherwise (e.g. buying used games) redeem codes can be purchased separately as well. There is another DLC called Kasumi – Stolen Memory which appeared in April. It features a new character (Kasumi, an enigmatic thief) and a loyalty mission which is pretty cool, but short. It’s not available as Cerberus DLC, but separately, and costs 560 Bioware points (you can buy 800 points with 10$). What this game seriously lacks though is multiplayer functionality. Even if it will be added through an add-on later, it won’t spark all the hype a built-in one would have. Maybe this is something they’ll consider for the 3rd installment.
As you progress you’ll notice which missions look ‘more final’ than others. Before you embark on the journey towards the final battle be sure you invest into research as much as possible, recruit all the characters, make them loyal and explore all the planets, otherwise outcomes of certain situations you’ll be put in will ‘sting’, even if you’ll be able to go on in the game. In any case, keep your savegames, you’re going to need them . Once you’re done with the game, keeping your savegames will also be good for Mass Effect 3, which will probably allow for importing as well. If you’ve played ME 1 you’ll know that you’ll grow attached to some of your team members and the same thing will happen now. If you haven’t played ME 1, play it, you’ve got some catching up to do
Characters are more profound than filling positions on the Normandy reveals about them. Not only are their personalities thought-through, but the art & animation department, as well as the voice cast, are incredible. I like to see who voices the characters when i finish the game as the credits roll so i won’t spoil it for you, but i’ll say there are a lot of celebrities among the cast. Some you will have recognized even before you finish the game. Speaking about personalities, when you revisit important planets try to choose different squads – there are some meaningful places where you can talk to them and they share insights and opinions. For example, some of the landscapes in this game, not just the pre-rendered ones, are simply spectacular.
Even if the year isn’t over, Mass Effect 2 has already received its own awards: Best RPG of E3 from GamePro, IGN, GameSpy and others. Bioware, one of the industry leaders, is also working on what is probably one of the most anticipated games: Star Wars: The Old Republic, a ground-breaking MMORPG. Given all this history and the promise of the future itself, Mass Effect 3 should prove one of the best games ever, and, furthermore, EA and Bioware will have reasons to support this franchise for a long time to come.
- Mass Effect official site