Warning: This review is incredibly long. I recommend pouring yourself a coffee or tea or even making a sandwich before reading this.
Before this review is read, there are a few things I'd like to clarify. I've never written a review for a sequel, and I'd thus like to treat this review as if I were reviewing Mass Effect 2 as a singular entity. I will leave a section at the end to compare it to its predecessor, but with that being said I believe that Mass Effect 2 should be treated for the sake of this review as its own game. This is beneficial for those who are considering purchasing Mass Effect 2 without playing Mass Effect. This is also beneficial for any of those who have played the original who would prefer a less biased review. With that clarified, enjoy the review!
On January 26th, 2010, a monumental moment in gaming occurred: Mass Effect 2 was released. It was one of the most highly anticipated games of the calender year, and it blew all expectations out of the water. Featuring a good storyline, high quality graphics, and quick and clean combat, Mass Effect 2 is a definite competitor for Game of the Year.
The core concept behind Mass Effect 2 is simple: recruit a strong team to stop an infinitely powerful enemy from destroying the human race. The exact nature of the mission is uncertain, and all that is known is the almost imminent death of those involved. The centre of the story is not where its glory lies, however; the beauty of the story is in each of the characters' recruitment and loyalty missions and within each of the unique assignments obtained through either the scanning of the planets or by receiving them from characters on the main planets.
Each of the characters recruited has a unique reason why they would be beneficial for the suicide mission, a unique personality, and an interesting loyalty mission, which prevents repetitiveness in the story. As the story progresses there are enough twists and turns to keep the player interested while maintaining continuity in the storyline to prevent any confusion. The cut scenes are an appropriate length and keep the story in context without taking away from any action. However, I felt like the story was a great amount of build-up for a disappointing ending. Although the story is about fighting the Collectors, missions involving fighting the Collectors occur very rarely, and the game is mostly focused on recruiting the team members. This sets up well for the sequel to this game, but takes away from the story of this game; this also is very disappointing for those looking for a stronger storyline for the moment.
One of the most interesting aspects of the story that I found was the smooth progression from the first to the second game. If a character from the first game is imported, the decisions made in the first game affect the sequel, and certain previously encountered characters will return, either with a mission or a simple well-wishing. This left me with a delightfully nostalgic feeling, even though I played Mass Effect very recently before beginning Mass Effect 2. The renegade and paragon options are still available in this game and thus can still affect your game, and the personalization gives this game an RPG element among its shooter styling.
The story is strong, especially in comparison with recent titles that I have played; however, it is not the selling point of Mass Effect 2, and I thus believe it deserves a 8.5/10
I have one word for the characterization in Mass Effect 2: glorious. The characters in this game were one of the selling points for me. Each character recruited onto your team has a unique personality that can be explored in-depth through conversation or by bringing them onto your missions. I had several discussions with each character, and I was thus commiserating with each of them over the pains that were created through their loyalty missions. Several of the characters – Mordin especially – had quite the sense of humour, which became especially evident when they began bantering among each other. Although each character was flawed it made them seem more realistic, even if they were an asari or a drell. The characters are very colourful (No, I’m not trying to say that the asari are blue), and are what takes the story from being typical to well-rounded and interesting. Each of the races has unique customs and history that are interesting enough that the player can sit in front of their television reading the codex entries as opposed to fighting in combat just to learn more about each race. The Mass Effect universe is incredibly well though-out and creative, and the diversity among races and characters allows Mass Effect 2 to transcend from being the average game to being something more.
In general, characters were one of the many highlights in a fantastic game, and I give it a 9.5/10
Let us consider what's been said so far: story is average and characters are above average, so what about the gameplay?
Mass Effect 2 is focused strongly on being a third-person shooter but contains several role playing elements. For example, the player can choose their character's alignment and responses in conversation as well as decide if a romantic encounter with a teammate is desired. However, the role-playing elements are kept to a minimum, and the shooter elements have been nearly perfected. Combat is surprisingly quick and clean, especially when compared to its slow predecessor. That being said, there are several elements in combat that I had problems with and several that I quite enjoyed that I would like to highlight.
First I would like to note how fast combat is in this game. You die quickly, your enemies die quickly, you regenerate shields quickly, your powers are used quickly and have brief cool down times, you reload your weapon quickly, etc. Cover is entirely necessary at almost all times to prevent death, especially when on the higher difficulties. Combat becomes a lot more tactical, for shields and health become a precious commodity. Mass Effect 2 is generous with autosaves, however, so death in combat will not result in much time lost.
Secondly I will cover assignments and missions in the game. Each mission or assignment received is different, and there is no repetitiveness in the assignments. That being said, a lot of the same types of enemies are encountered throughout the game; consequently, certain missions that are focused on combat feel the same unless different teammates are brought on the missions. The way the missions and assignments are obtained is vastly different from most Bioware games; instead of having three or four major missions to choose from, the player is given Dossiers to obtain each of the team members. In order to receive assignments and upgrade weapons, armour, and the ship, the player scans planets to obtain minerals or discover anomalies which lead to assignments. Although I have heard several complaints about the monotony of scanning, I found that the elements were obtained quickly enough that a great amount of scanning was not required and thus the monotony was eliminated.
Thirdly, the difficulty of the game must be considered. I only played the game on normal, so I am biased, but I found that there weren't a great amount of major bosses in the game; rather, the game preferred to focus on fighting hordes of increasing size and difficulty. There were several difficult classes of enemies that were repeatedly encountered and caused frustration, though this could not be considered a boss battle. The final boss battle wasn't of an extremely high difficulty, and I frankly found the plot behind the battle to be rather contrived. That being said, I have heard horror stories about the game on insanity, and thus I cannot fully appreciate the difficulty of the game.
Fourth, weapons and armour are an important aspect of the game. The weapon system in this game is oversimplified, to the extent that the player no longer has any sense of customization or any choice if they wish to maximize their fire rate at the loss of firepower, for example. Mass Effect 2 provides the classic ammo setup, which feels like a backwards step considering how far in the future the game is meant to be set. The ammo clips are far smaller than necessary, although the reload speed is quick enough that this does not become a very large negative factor. A new heavy class of weapons is now implemented, which is extremely effective against bosses but has to be used conservatively because of the limited ammo. The armour can be personalized to choose the buffs as well as the look of the armour, but the system is almost too simple.
Finally, powers are what take Mass Effect 2 away from simply being a shooter. Each power is unique and useful in different situations. Although they can't be considered a necessity, they give the player a definite advantage, especially against well-protected enemies.
A final quick note to add to the gameplay is the dual disks. Although this is necessary for the powerful graphics, I did not like how the disks had to be switched thrice in the game. You begin on Disk 1, switch to Disk 2, and return to Disk 1 for the final battle. Although this is a small nuance, it remains a nuance.
Though I found the combat to be enjoyable, gameplay in general has certain attributes that could have been improved on. Overall, a 9/10
Graphics and Sound
Mass Effect 2 is put onto two disks for a reason: the graphics are smooth and generally well done. Although they are not considered outstanding, the movements are very smooth and more natural and there weren't any rendering issues. I found the colouration to be a bit of a problem in differentiating if enemies were behind or in front of cover, though this could have been a personal problem. The graphics provide a good compliment to the game and make combat even more attractive than before.
Sound was very average in Mass Effect 2, and though it was suitable for each situation, it was not extravagant. The majority of the music was taken from the first game, and I would have appreciated new scores.
Although the graphics and sound are good, they receive little credibility for originality and aren't considered above average. They are therefore granted 8.5/10
Achievements in Mass Effect 2 are noticeably simple. All of the achievements can be completed in two playthroughs, possibly one if a lot of level grinding occurs and the player is willing to start on the insanity difficulty. The vast majority of the achievements are based on the story line or loyalty missions, and there are a few that are combat based. I completed my first playthrough in approximately twenty-five hours and I have 43 of the achievements, keeping in mind that several of my remaining achievements can be easily obtained.
That being said, Mass Effect 2 is the type of game that can be replayed even without achievements considered.
Achievements in this game are a good compliment and very straightforward but cannot be considered difficult in any way. This will be greatly appreciated by completionists and achievement hunters. 8.5/10
Comparison to Mass Effect
As stated in the foreword, I wanted to put a comparison of Mass Effect 2 to its original, because there are a lot of very obvious differences between the two games. So many, in fact, that I'm having difficulty deciding where to begin with this. Let me commence by saying that a lot of the weaknesses in Mass Effect were either vastly improved or completely removed in Mass Effect 2; for example, I found the combat in the original to be slow, and as a result it was sped up greatly in the sequel. I also found the grenades in combat to be weak and slightly unnecessary, and thus they eliminated grenades in the sequel and replaced them with the much more useful heavy weapons.
One of the biggest changes between the two games was the role-playing element. Many considered the role-playing element of the original to be weak – which is valid – but the micromanaging of weapons, armour, and upgrades was enjoyable. The sequel responded by eliminating almost all role-playing elements and focusing on the strengths of the combat concepts from the original. One of my biggest problems with the sequel was the weaker story, outlined earlier, especially when compared to the first game. The original is a great concept: there is a lot of build-up to the ending, questions are left unanswered, there is a solid antagonist that remains evil throughout the game and there is a very linear and well conceptualized story. The second game threw a lot of those concepts out the window, making a bit of a mish-mash story without a true antagonist and without the feeling of purpose. Although the player realizes that there is an enemy in the Collectors, it does not feel as if the story focuses on the enemy and focuses more on obtaining a team to take on the enemy. Story was one of the strongest points in the original and one of the weakest points in the sequel, which felt very unusual to me.
Thus far, my comparison sounds like the original is a far better game in comparison to the sequel. This is not the situation, however; although the games are vastly different, I do not consider one better than the other. The combat in ME2 is improved so vastly that it's shocking, other than the implementation of ammunition as opposed to the overheating weapons system in the original. Ammunition was necessary in the heavy weapons, but I didn't believe it was required in the normal weapons. The powers are also different in the sequel; instead of each having a long individual cool-down time, they have a collective brief cool down time. I preferred this method, for it also allowed combat to be faster and prevented the player from feeling helpless when they had no powers to use. The powers were more carefully chosen and thus there were fewer available to each player, resulting in the powers becoming more equal in regards to points placed in each power during levelling. In general, the combat is improved in almost every way in the sequel, although this is at the loss of a great storyline.
A notable absence in the sequel is the notorious Mako. With the loss of Mako the developers also took away the need to drive endlessly along the planets searching for minerals that earned too few credits and a potential Thresher Maw attack. The planet scanning is much more quick and effective than driving around in the Mako, and the major cities – such as the Citadel – are traversed more easily because they are compact and have an improved fast travel system. The assignments are a lot less monotonous in the sequel and have different lengths, and are simply improved in general. Graphics are also improved, with the rendering issues from the first game eliminated.
Although I could continue endlessly about the differences among the original and the sequel, I would prefer to sum it up by saying that although the two are great games, an experienced Mass Effect player is in for a surprise upon commencing Mass Effect 2, because despite the returning characters and some similar story concepts it feels like an entirely different game.
In conclusion, despite its flaws Mass Effect 2 is a truly fantastic game and a must purchase for both those who have played the original and those who haven't. Although the story is a loss, the game more than makes up for it in graphics, characters, and combat.
I give it a total score of 9/10. Although I am very hard pressed to give any game five stars and I consider this game far from perfect, it is still one of the most enjoyable games I have played in many moons and takes a spot among my top games of all time. I will thus grant it five stars, though it is not a genuinely perfect game since I consider every game to be flawed.
I also grant it five stars because Adam Baldwin voices a character in ME2, and anything involving Adam Baldwin gains at least a star in basic awesomeness.