Mass Effect 2 - Staff Review  

A True Mass-terpiece
by Tom Goldman

20-40 Hours
+ Incredible story and characters.
+ Tons of player choices that matter.
+ Immense replay value.
+ Battles never become tiresome.
+ Well detailed environments.
- Planet scanning is time-consuming.
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   Mass Effect 2 is not just the second entry in the already beloved Mass Effect series, but also a full realization of the concepts and ideas first put forth in the original game. It is easily one of BioWare's best titles, which says a lot about the developer of past works such as Baldur's Gate and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. In fact, Mass Effect 2 might be one of the most enjoyable video game experiences ever created, period. Why, you may ask?

   Mass Effect 2 blurs the line between shooter and RPG. It has truly earned the right to put a dash between the two genre titles, as the game melds a very fun, intuitive battle system with an amazing story and character progression. Mass Effect 2 might even do the third-person shooter better than other games built around that gameplay style, which sometimes devolve into room after room of the same exact thing. Mass Effect 2's battles are based around a cover system, but the environments and enemy selection remain so varied that battles are always fun.

   New to Mass Effect 2 is a thermal ammo system. Enemies will drop ammo, or it can be found on the battlefield. Each weapon holds a different amount, but picking up a thermal clip will fill all held weapons rather than just one (heavy weapons are the exception). The new ammo system works just fine, and makes players think harder about when and where to use certain weapons. Different classes use different kinds of weaponry, as do Shepard's squadmates, balancing everything and playing to each class's strengths. Biotic powers and other abilities can be easily mapped to hotkeys, but pausing during combat at times is still going to be a good idea. Either way, it's easier to target enemies in Mass Effect 2 with all forms of attacks.

   The user interface now shows if an enemy is covered with shields, a biotic barrier, or armor, making proper use of abilities and weapons easier. This ties into character progression, as players can now knowledgeably pick and choose a balanced set of skills that will be useful in a wide variety of situations. Weaponry follows suit, as every weapon has its own advantages and disadvantages, with fewer upgrades that are more meaningful, though each piece of heavy weaponry is a completely different beast. Squad AI operates perfectly, sometimes causing Shepard's teammates to perform better than Shepard himself as they push through the battlefield and use abilities on their own, but not too much as to become detrimental.

Caption Subject Zero's choice in tops is questionable.

   Even while weapons are holstered, Mass Effect 2 looks great on the PC, from jungle environments to alien ships. A notable difference from the original Mass Effect is that BioWare has designed completely unique areas for every mission in Mass Effect 2, even for optional missions, as opposed to the first game's multiple prefabricated areas that players repetitively explored. Mass Effect 2's environments are also beautifully detailed, such as Omega, a space station that is a haven for smugglers and mercenaries that houses a club featuring realistic Asari pole-dancers, a huge LED-like display, and an overall seedy atmosphere.

   Shepard's animations sometimes make him appear a little robotic and don't necessarily fit the situations he is in, a minor quibble, but otherwise characters look and act realistically, partially due to the high quality facial animation. Some players may fall in love with their squad members right alongside Shepard. The voice acting in Mass Effect 2 is very strong, and it's fun to recognize the voices of characters from other sci-fi properties.

   The best part of Mass Effect 2 is its deep and rich story that will constantly surprise players and force them to make important choices. Extremely natural story sequences are interjected throughout combat and exploration, keeping the entire game fresh and engaging. Players must balance the needs of Shepard's mission against his own morals and the needs of his crew, and sometimes it isn't possible to satisfy all of them. Choice matters in Mass Effect 2, as certain player decisions can lead to huge changes in the future of Shepard's squad.

   Recruitment of squad members leads to some of Mass Effect 2's most enjoyable and sometimes surprising moments, as does helping them deal with their pasts. Mass Effect 2 also has a great sense of humor which is expressed through certain conversations, in-game advertisements, and even knick-knacks to collect. Whether it's making you laugh, jump in surprise, or intensely focus, Mass Effect 2 opens with a bang, keeps exploding throughout the middle, and ends in the same exciting manner. It just never lets up.

Caption This man is important.

   Thankfully, Mass Effect 2's interface and controls are simple, easy, and never an issue. The only time they might cause a problem is during planet scanning, the primary method through which materials are gained for upgrades, as it's uncomfortable to perform using a mouse. Planet scanning is done by holding down the right mouse button, moving it over a celestial body, and firing probes when the scan picks up a trace of an element. It seems meant more for a gamepad, where players can hold in an analog stick rather than moving the mouse around. Planet scanning itself is not so much tedious as time-consuming, and much easier than Mass Effect's Mako exploration, which has not made a return in Mass Effect 2. Optional missions are found through planet scanning, but simply visiting a planet will detect these, so players are smartly not forced to fully scan every planet to find them.

   It says a lot that the only problem I had during my entire playthrough of Mass Effect 2 was with the planet scanning mini-game. I did experience some minor game crashes (on a Windows 7 PC with new hardware), and I got stuck in the environment during Jacob's story-mission (so be careful there), but Mass Effect 2's auto-save system works in such a way that I lost none of my progress. Mass Effect 2 can be completed in approximately thirty hours, though fully exploring the galaxy and completing all of its optional missions will tack on at least another ten. Those hours are filled with constant excitement, fun, and challenge, and the game has plenty of replay value through the character import system and a new game+ mode. BioWare made a great game with Mass Effect, but Mass Effect 2 is better in every single way. Mass Effect 2 proves that BioWare is one of the world's top game developers, and hopefully it will continue creating really great experiences like this forever. Mass Effect 2 is a masterpiece of both game design and story, and worthy of being in every RPGamer's collection.

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