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Mass Effect 2: Import your bad decisions today!

Okay, lets face it.  People were anticipating the release of Mass Effect 2 like trolls sitting under a bridge waiting for billy goats to messily devour.  It was fabled to be like a god among video games, ready to be released by Bioware at any point to descend to our poor mortal realm to turn all the water in the world into wine for some reason.  And for good reason!  The first Mass Effect was one of the best RPGs to appear on the Xbox 360 thus far, answering burning questions, like if an epic scale role playing game can exist in the depths of space, if there is, indeed life in the galaxy, and if maybe, just maybe we can get our freak on with a weird snake-headed blue chick.

Anyway, there’s numerous, countless decisions you can make over the course of Mass Effect one and two, so it seemed fair that, like the game, this review will have multiple endings, with contributions from all of the Faceplant staff.

Tophat’s Handle:

I really wanted to get into Mass Effect 2 more, I really did.  I went into the game with some high expectations, especially since the original Mass Effect was one of the better games I’ve played on the 360.  Don’t get me wrong- Mass Effect 2 is a good game, with believable characters, amazing graphics and an updated, more convenient menu system.  I enjoyed what I saw, but Commander Shepard just didn’t pull me back into the story like he used to.

The second installment in the series takes place a short time after the events of the first game, with the crew of the Normandy cleaning up the remains of the geth armada that plagued the galaxy during Saren’s tenure.  After things go hilariously wrong, Commander Shepard gets a new face, a new ship, and some new allegiances.  You can import your character from Mass Effect 1, which leads to some anxiety since it’s possible you have already completely screwed up the galaxy and just forgot about it during the downtime between the games.

Ah, but there’s the kicker.  Commander Shepard is starting over regardless of if you played Mass Effect, essentially from scratch.  This time around there’s a new evil in the galaxy, an alien race that is abducting humans from their colonies en masse.  Shepard must build a crew, a ship, and some upgrades if he has any chance of saving humanity.

Bioware site images!

WHOA MAN OKAY YOU'RE ON FIRE

Here’s where Mass Effect hits its biggest snag.  Whereas the first game ended with the revelation that the Reapers, massive civilization destroying sentient machines that look like a cross between a hand and a squid, were very, very pissed, this time Commander Shepard pulls back from them entirely.  This new threat has vague connections to the Reapers, everyone assumes, so just roll with it.

But then the game pulls back even further from that premise.  The majority of the game is spent recruiting, developing, and going on missions to gain the loyalty of your crew.  This does make for some extremely well developed characters, but none of Shepard’s crews really have any interest or history with this threat.   You’ll spend a lot of time doing missions that have absolutely nothing to do with the main story.  I can recall one event where the threat to humanity has a direct influence in one of your part recruiting missions, but it felt forced, as if the development team suddenly said “oh yeah, the galaxy is in trouble and stuff.”

After numerous recruiting missions and side quests, I found myself wishing that a gigantic Reaper hand-squid would just show up out of nowhere and really throw a wrench in the works.

Okay, I’ll admit it.  I was really banking on seeing more Reaper shenanigans in this game.  It would have kept the story more central, but mostly because I have a thing for gigantic alien sentient space hand-squids blowing up civilization.  Call me old fashioned.

Still, for what’s there Mass Effect 2 is extremely well polished.  The characters are extremely developed and you’ll care about their fates.  By far my favorite element of the game was the knowledge that you could royally screw everything up.  Bioware announced early on during the game’s development that if you aren’t careful, every single member of your team could end up dead-including Commander Shepard.  This thought will invade every decision you make in the game, forcing you to think about whether or not you’ll send off a chain of events that leads to someone’s horrific death.  It really adds weight to the game’s decisions.

Combat has been completely revamped for the game as well.  The inventory system has been thrown out completely, and the game will give you about three or four weapons to choose from.  That’s fine- anything has to be better than the old inventory system where it took you half an hour to clean out all your crappy weapon enhancements every time your inventory got full.

So, the big argument about Mass Effect 2 is that for the sequel Bioware took out a lot of the elements that make role playing games, well, role playing games.  I’m sure if you really wanted to, you could find a hundred thousand forum debates about whether the change was good for the series or if it was a step away from the RPG game play people had come to expect.  Personally, I didn’t have a problem with the game play.  It was smooth, had less confusing menus, and felt like actual combat.  In space.

Basically, sequels don’t always have to play like sequels.  Sometimes change can be a good thing.  Though I admit, I would have been pissed if they had made the game more reminiscent of, say, Animal Crossing.

For a solid RPG shooter game, you probably can’t do better than Mass Effect 2.  Of course, the idea of a RPG shooter game is still a relatively new idea, strangely enough, so that might not be the best example.  Anyway, the characters and game play mechanics really make this game shine.  I just wish the story hadn’t pulled back entirely from the true menace to the galaxy.

Bioware.com!

At a certain point you know he's just looking for attention.

The decisions you make will shape the destiny of the galaxy, so choose carefully.  In retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have spent all my credits on ornamental fish and model space ships, but eh, hindsight is 20/20.

Whether you choose to be the biggest douchebag this side of the Omega 4 relay or to become Space Mother Teresa…  in space…  you can really count on the fact that somewhere down the line, you’re gonna screw everything up.  But no pressure or anything.

Elrood’s thoughts:

Mass Effect 2 is chock full of things to do. For a solid forty hours plus, there are always new systems to visit, planets to land on, minerals to scan, party members to recruit or help, or even two different mini quests that both involve fish. As Peck correctly points out, most of those things don’t actually involve the main story of the Mass Effect series, which is good, because if they did, you would be playing a game whose plot focus is fish. And who would want that?

A game whose plot focus actually IS fish.

I was concerned when initial reports on Mass Effect 2 discussed the lack of planet exploration. I thought that the loss of exploring (via the Mako vehicle) would take away from the game. The first game captured the cool feeling of landing on a planet and wondering what could be over the next ridge.

After playing Mass Effect 2, I realized what was over the next ridge. And lucky for us, Bioware realized it as they were creating the sequel. NOTHING. It was a good feeling to think you were constantly on the verge of discovering something amazing as you drove the Mako around, but if you actually think back to the first game, all you ever found was an occasional mineral deposit or codex entry as you rolled over bland looking environments. What Bioware realized was that they made a system that was too big. The ability to make a metric ton of planets to land on does no good if there is rarely anything on them that would be worth remembering. So they scrapped most of them. Mass Effect 2 does not have as many places to visit as the first, but you can be damn sure that any place you do visit will be compelling. Most of the time the compelling things you find are stories and characters that don’t really have anything to do with the large reaper threat to the galaxy.

But that is exactly what makes Mass Effect 2 great. Yeah, the over-arcing story takes a backseat until the last couple hours of the game. While Peck says this prevented him from getting sucked into the game, it had the total opposite effect on me. It enabled me to get a sense of the world of Mass Effect, not just the universe saving side of things. The reaper threat against the galaxy carries much more weight because I cared. This universe is bigger than Shepard, even though he will very likely determine its fate.

The highlight of the game are the characters that join with Shepard. Every single party member has a distinct personality and history. I felt like I knew everyone aboard my ship as a friend, and I was going to keep them all alive through the impending battle come hell or high water. Bioware wisely developed the character specific missions to be vastly different from one another. Some are action focused, others have no combat at all. Some have happy endings, others end in tragedy. All of them featured top notch writing and voice acting. The result ends up being a game that tells a myriad of personal stories, all wrapped around an ever present larger plot that never quite lets you forget it.

Mass Effect 2 has received some criticism for stripping down its “RPG elements”, such as the aforementioned exploration or the lack of a traditional item system. I would argue that while those things are indeed staples of RPG’s, they are not part of the role playing experience. Just take a second to remember what RPG stands for and you should see what I’m driving at. Most of Mass Effect 2 is conversation. Role playing is not fiddling through item menus, or even deciding which powers to let fly during combat. Role playing is taking on a persona (in this case, your Commander Shepard) and seeing a story through their eyes. Some ask you to make significant story choices (such as Mass Effect) while others lead you down one path (Final Fantasy 13). Either way, the experience is the story.

There is one thing that could make me change my opinion of Mass Effect 2 ; Mass Effect 3. I would imagine Bioware is aiming for the third game to probably not introduce that many new characters and be much more focused on the primary plot-line The fantastic introduction of the first game and compelling plots of the second will amplify tenfold all of the decisions and dramatic moments in the third.

I care about them more than I care about most of my real friends.

If Mass Effect 3 is a dud in terms of plot, we could have an issue. I’m quite confident that will not be the case. I trust Bioware. They have always delivered games that I remember long after finishing. Mass Effect is their magnum opus. And Mass Effect 2 is an experience I will fondly remember for a long time.

Enosh’s take:

How cliché is sleeping with your secretary? I mean seriously. At least there’s no achievement for it. But more about Yeoman Kelly in a minute.

I was one of the few who got so excited about Mass Effect (the first one) that I went online and order the preamble novel. I love the Mass Effect universe. The first time I landed on “Luna” I kept yelling to my wife “Look! I’m on the moon! I’m running around on the moon!” She of course deemed the fact that I was so thrilled by a video game the height of hilarity, but I loved it all the same. As I’m sure Tophat and Elrood will be quick to point out, I absolutely loved pouring over weapons and deciding which weapons I might need for a later situation, finding new upgrades for my weapon mods, and just generally being in a menu.

The game for me was all about having the right weapon for the situation while exploring the gorgeous landscapes in my Mako. Eletania was really the pinnacle of immersive gameplay for me. I absolutely loved grinding that Mako over sheer cliffs just to see what wonders awaited over the next hill.

The baddest space vehicle of all time

Take a good look, you won't see it again in Mass Effect 2

Enter ME2.

Where did my Mako go? My new ship is too big to go atmo so I have to go down to the surface in a shuttle that, like a good shuttle, can only take me from point A to point B. That means once I’m on the planet I can only explore as far as I can walk and even that extent was limited by box cannons, sheer cliffs, and poisonous fog. As dynamic and wonderful as the planetside activities are, their linear path saddens and infuriates me.

With the loss of the Mako comes the loss on surface mining. These are modern times so we do space mining here in ME2. We can shoot probes down to the planet to collect our minerals for us. As convenient and wonderful as that sounds, the reality is in fact tedious, monotonous, stodgy, tiresome, and wearying. This is a problem because your very survival is based on research and research is funded through delicious resources. Since this was the game that was supposed to be critic proof because it addressed every criticized issue of ME, I can only assume some lame brain adrenaline junky thought driving around in a Mako looking for minerals was boring. So we replace it with a ramped up version of scanning every last planet in the known and unknown galaxy? How is that more fun? The worlds I did get to set foot on were gorgeous, with the exception of the Citadel. Having read Drew Karpyshyn‘s description of the sprawling space metropolis, I am still awaiting the never-ending corridors full of aliens.

When you go looking for a fight to break up the tedious space exploration, and you will do this a lot, then you will find that your plethora of ammo-less weapons ranging from awesome to penultimate have been replaced by about six regular weapons and six “heavy” weapons. All of which suddenly need “ammo.” Apparently the simple overheating system from ME was too easy. (I will admit, by level 60 my brother had a machine gun that could fire incendiary rounds for five minutes straight without overheating.) Heating sinks are fun when you’re building a computer. When your trying to pop Vorcha like dandelions, not so much. I am a sniper. I love being outside the action silently dealing death without my enemy ever acknowledging my existence. This seems like something that should be ideal for every life-loving sentient being. But instead of hiding behind cover popping out long enough to blow someones head off then ducking down again while my rifle chills, I found myself unloading into everything with pistols and submachine guns while I ran around looking for heat sinks dropped by my foolish enemies.  If I wanted to do that, I would have signed up for the infantry or that certifiably insane Vanguard class. Anybody who wants to use all their manna getting closer to the enemy really should have their head examined. Elrood, this means you.

(Elrood responds:  Vanguard was amazing.  If Enosh’s philosophy of sniping can mean your one with the gun, Vanguards mantra is you are the fucking BULLET.)

Time spent on my ship was pleasant overall. The increased conversation options with Joker was one of the highlights of the game for me. The interior design was beautiful and, despite the sterility, inviting.

Then there was Kelly. I lost all respect for that woman the moment she attempted to flirt with me while introducing herself. Tophat informed me as we were playing along that he had got Kelly to feed her fish. I spent the rest of the game trying to get her to feed my fish as I jetted around the galaxy. I must have bought new fish half a dozen times as I became more and more angry as I cycled through the same dialogue trees time and time again.

Kelly gets hers

Who's going to feed my fish now Kelly?

Annoying characters aside, the story line worked for me. The ending I found particularly provocative, and I can’t wait to find out what happens.

Without boring you further, I did enjoy Mass Effect 2, thought not to the extent I had hoped. Shame on me for having high expectations.

Also, there’s this.

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