The rumors you heard are very true: Bioware did take out a lot of the RPG elements in the game. No more looting a corpse after every engagement to find weapons, armor, or Xmods. No more sprawling character sheet with an abundance of talents – you now have five talents to choose from. Ammo that you used to get frequently is now a power up you will spend your points on. What did I think of the game though? Strap yourself in, Shepard.
The game starts off with the Normandy, your ship, on a mission to find more baddies (Geth and Reapers) that need to be eradicated with your trusty Black & Decker assault rifle. As the Normandy makes its usual rounds, a ship emerges from nowhere and blows the hell out of the Normandy, killing Shepard in the process. Yeah, you read that right. You die within the first five minutes of the game. Of course, you could just uninstall right there, thinking that you really do suck that bad. A brief cut-scene later and you realize it was all a dream.
The cut-scene fades into black, leaving you in a Cerberus science facility, where you’ve been in stasis for the last two years. It’s your classic tutorial mission: the station is under attack by some mechs, and for some reason, you are the only competent soldier onboard who can take them out easily (even with those two years of muscle degeneration). After escaping the station with two of your new crew, you talk to a random guy. He gives you the rundown. The universe is in peril (again) and you are the only one who can stop it (again). Well no kidding? I was the only one who could stop it in the first one; did someone better qualified randomly appear? After a brief conversation with this guy you are reunited with Joker and the Normandy v2.0.
You are given the mission to stop collectors, allegedly abducting human colonies, because there is an off-chance they are working with the big bad reapers. Jumping into famous beach v2.0, I went off into the galaxy to stop said evil marauders. Before I could save the galaxy though, I needed to recruit a new crew. A few familiars show back up – Tali and Garrus being two. There are a few oddballs that enter the stages, like Mordin, a stereotypical mad-scientist with a bad speed addiction. Assembling the team is easy enough, and Bioware has you back into the action in no time. Fly into the heart of the collectors, kill everything, don’t look at explosions, leave. You’re now an action hero.
So what about all of these missing role-playing elements? They had to do something to make up for it, right? Remember the generic assault rifles? You now have a standard rifle, one with three round burst, and one that is a light machinegun. Sniper rifles too, you get the standard one-shot rifle, and a semi-automatic one, capable of firing off 12 rounds before reloading. Veterans of Mass Effect might be shocked by the last statement: there is no more infinite ammo in the game. You instead have thermal clips, devices that conveniently store the heat produced by weapons to keep them from overheating. When the thermal clip is full, just hit your trusty reload key and you are good-to-go.
Bioware removed a lot of the original armor types as well, but they did not leave you lacking cool gear. Armor appearances are now entirely customizable – color, design scheme, and modular attachments that you find can all be changed. Yes, you could make the armor dark green, throw on a helmet with an orange visor and prance around like Master Chief.
Your favorite mini-games are baaaack!
Each member of your crew has a personal loyalty mission, not dissimilar from Dragon Age’s personal quests. Completing loyalty missions not only increases the, uhh, loyalty of your crew, but also increases the odds of teammates surviving suicide missions. Special talents are unlocked as loyalty is gained, eventually opening up one of two final progressions of the talent.
The Normandy has a big ass to kiss, though, and I can’t do all of it. Mass Effect 2 certainly has its share of issues, least of which is not the total flip from RPG to Action. The Collector Ship must have a lot of water on-board, because it is a blatant rip-off of the flood ship from Halo 3. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but when the only interior design change is the length of wall-mounted pods, it just makes me want to defect to the game the design was stolen from.
Real heroes don't look at them.
One of your crewmates, a female named Jack (we groaned, too), represents your run-of-the-mill rogue/bard. She is wanted throughout the galaxy and has a bad habit of breaking out of secure prisons. Unfortunately, the tomfoolery doesn’t end there. I thought I was home free when I got to the final boss battle, until I realized I was fighting a Terminator T800. Right down to the red eye sockets. ‘Sup Arnold?
A vast majority of the issues I had with Mass Effect 2 are not so much in gameplay as they are in design. The graphics are sharp, the character development is very well done, and for the most part it is an all-around good game. It’s also just as challenging as the original – I’ve yet to keep my entire team alive throughout the final mission.
The Good: Heavy-focus in action is an excellent break from recently-released RPGs. Long lifespan thanks to hundreds of combinatory dialogue and gameplay differences. Importing your character from Mass Effect is a huge bonus, and also effects the outcome of Mass Effect 2. This means if you have multiple characters from ME, each with a different path, you could have an alternate story in ME2. Repetition from the original game has receded greatly in the sequel.
The Bad: Lack of originality from start-to-finish mars the sheen on Bioware’s visor. Lack of role-playing elements could dissuade some audiences from playing through the whole game.
Overall: A definite buy. If you’re a fan of intense action with a story backdrop, Mass Effect 2 will be very pleasing. Gears of War players will also feel at home within the confines of Normandy. Your original Mass Effect must not sit alone on the shelf.