Mass Effect 2 – The largely anticipated sequel in the BioWare series makes yet another near perfect landing to bring us more unbeatable science-fiction role-playing action alongside some long awaited gameplay ideas and desire’s that breach the surface. Not only that but Mass Effect 2 brings along with it a whole new universe of mystery and rich story-telling, which is too hard to not fall into. The first title was a huge success for all the right reasons and now with talks of the series’ of games connecting and becoming more meaningful because of this, the rewards have never been better for Sci-fi gamers and beyond.
Two years have passed after Commander (Kitty) Shepard fought the invading Reapers and won to save the Galaxy, now a new more dangerous threat has appeared in the black depths of space that has started to abduct human colony’s, leaving no trace of the deed. You – Shepard, must work with the shady Cerberus organization to beat this seemingly invisible threat no matter the cost in this new dangerous but sexy cool journey. The story has that familiar undercurrent of – It’s another suicide mission, so Commander Shepard will need the best of the best at his/her side and you will assemble them. You’ll get some more fruits from your pervious hard labors if you load your save with the likes of your rank but you will also be questioned about your previous mission decisions. The games structure will guide you to your squad mates you will need to recruit by completing their missions, you’ll also get to meet surviving Allies from Mass Effect and you’ll get to see some very interesting and deep character progress, even visual differences as time has passed are apparent over many things.
Shepard is rebuilt by Cerberus after your ship is completely destroyed and you will be given Cerberus’ highly upgraded new Normandy ship to play with, which is bigger and better than before. The ship also has built in A.I. – she’s a little quirky, reminds me of Holly from Red Dwarf but without the face. Along with an improved hull, weapons and holding facilities the Normandy looks alot sharper and seems more capable, it’s good to see such attention to detail as far as passage of time in the series is concerned and seems to be the type of thought power pushing BioWare’s concepts for unraveling Mass Effects story/gameplay – even more so in Mass Effect 2. It’s not all about galaxy changing decisions you get some of the more smaller, less significant choices in life; here – BioWare have added more diversity in the form of doing a crew members small favours or going out of your way as Commander to fix a wrong you necessarily don’t need to, this helps hold the game back from shooting right to the end to quick and will push you to enjoy other features of the game like the expansive space and planet exploration.
Once you’ve gotten through the introduction, basic movement’s, basic controls and the current status of relevant event’s you will be let loose with the Normandy for the first time. On the second floor of the Normandy you will find the interface for the Galaxy map, if you want to trawl the galaxy this is the place you go to. After hitting A on the interface you will be shown the map of the current Galaxy you’re in, the Normandy will appear as a little moveable icon that you can fly round without loss of fuel – loss of fuel only occurs when you travel from Galaxy to Galaxy without using the Mass Relay. The Mass Relays are similar to warp holes just these shoot you off to another Mass Relay with alot of momentum to quickly get you to that destination point. You can fly out of a system to another system of planets within that same Galaxy – think of it like archives of planets, within a system, within a Galaxy – it’s as cool to play as it sounds. This is an increasingly enjoyable part of Mass Effect 2 as you can be kept content wandering and harvesting the Galaxy and like the first title you can find secret research bunkers, forgotten bases and hidden wonders. Doing things like this alongside the story missions not only improves this particular experience it’s also rewarding and necessary. At first the scanning planets may sound very simple or tedious and you would be right in thinking so but it’s just how it sounds – the building of your archive of planets, recourses and hidden entities makes it very addictive, you will feel compelled to scour every nook and cranny.
In-between missions you can go back on-board the Normandy and talk to your crew, this will unlock certain parts of their history along with some other refreshing rewards. You will get into a routine just like a Commander of completing a mission, checking your resources and then exploring other avenues with your crew – for a console game it has alot of space to explore not only in the galaxy but within worlds and your ship the Normandy. Some smaller gameplay pleasures come from what you can do with the things you earned or have scavenged, tech can be found in explorable levels and areas on bodies of fallen alien races or wreckages of downed vessels. You can also upgrade weapons, armour and abilities – these can be found on your Squad Command Interface / wheel of commands that you see when you hold either Left or Right Bumper Buttons. The appearances of these items change when upgraded and you also have a healthy amount of appearance options to customize in your cabin regarding general ship clothing and your battle armour layout. Bending your characters appearance the way you want is very satisfying in Mass Effect 2 especially when you gain different segments of armour to use as unlike the first you don’t just find that apparel lying around, apparel is now built upon and researched not picked up and swapped around. The game runs smoother and with less loose end like this and seems very refined if you played the first title, the exploring has equally been thought about and refined also – it’s like Mass Effect 2.5 not 2.
They’re a couple of main city’s/ports that are bigger than most levels or secret areas and hold side and story missions, the first example of this your placed around is the Omega base. The Omega base is old mined-out asteroid brimming with a underworld full of criminals, life is varied in this universe but most of it comes in an untrustworthy form and this is where Paragon and Renegade points will start adding up as you will be given more options in conversation than just plain old boring words. As you progress through and make decisions depending on what you chose to do either it being Good, Evil or neither, you will receive points to raise your Paragon or Renegade bar. This bar can be found on your Squad Screen off the Mission Computer situated next to the Galaxy interface; you can also upgrade your abilities here with the experience points earned from battle and upgrade your team mate’s abilities too. They’ll be situations that cause for instant intervention and a button prompt will appear on either left or right of the screen prompting you to do a Paragon or Renegade fuelled action, this is called the Interrupt System. These interwoven patterns and options that look like patterns of behaviour give you the sense that you’re controlling your own destiny but at the same time adds a sliver of doubt that you’re heading for an opposite reaction to all you decisions. This will make you a little weary minded when making latter decisions in the game as this building you do all they way through draws you deeper to the Mass Effect totality.
The Citadel is available to dock once again, another place that you previously had explored if you played the first game. Taking a wander around brought back previous feelings and memories of Mass Effect as I remembered the races and familiar corridors, this effect is rare to find coming up so clearly in a game. The fact that the previous gameplay resurfaces in your mind when you return to these same places is seldom seen – it’s not a huge element to consider if you’re thinking about purchasing the game but it’s still rare to find.
As you hit the 15 hours half-way point you should notice the brilliantly varied crew you will have started to assemble. Video Game developers – however hard they focus, can’t always pull off a second great line up of characters and with a sequel like this based in the same place, they can often seem watered down or mere reflections of better characters from the previous title. It doesn’t happen in Mass Effect 2, in-fact the balance between old allies you can’t use, only interact with and the introduction of new allies and some new races is as perfect as it could be. Also the relationships between you and your squad members is an important element, the loyalty status of your squad members can be found in the Squad Overview section in your Private or Mission terminal. Here you can look at dossiers of missing members and check your current squads capabilities, if you have any DLC for the other characters it can be changed in this overview section.
The Mini-Games you’ll come across that lock safes and doors become a little faster as you progress, these have been changed the second time round have changed and work alot better. You will need to Bypass or Hack these barriers; Bypassing involves matching up symbols that appear on the blue nodes when you hover over them and to hack encrypted files you must find the matching code fragments in a series of scrolling fields. Both aren’t challenging, just enough to keep you alert as if you fail to connect a node rightly or run out of time, the barrier will lock completely leaving you with nice empty pockets and a sour face.
The game looks really good, the conversations always seem to hold alot of attention to detail visually too, which just demands your attention and makes long conversations a pleasure to follow. The areas you explore indoors or in-level are creative enough to project a believable Sci-fi scene and atmosphere, though textures on the ground, walls and inanimate objects could have done with a little attention – I didn’t scoff at much. The space you explore in Mass Effect has a canny likeness to the pictures you see from satellites in space around Earth in our reality. The previous Galaxy you explored in Mass Effect is also there, for those who didn’t play the first it’s our Solar system with Pluto, Earth and the rest making an appearance you can relate to in reality and in the first title.
The past repetitive nature of Mass Effect has faded in the form of the vehicle sequences have disappeared; Mini-games have become more enjoyable. There’s the vast array of weapons you can get now and they’re not scattered around the maps, you upgrade them when you find the right tech, which makes the game run alot better when configuring your weapon load-out and your allies. The cover system works very well with the better and more refined layout of the new levels; these levels also are very impressive local wise and create a much wider picture of how this whole universe is filled with life compared to Mass Effect. The different classes you can pick make an reappearance and the skill sets that go with these are just as enjoyable as the first, more so when you throw bots around and shoot them in mid-air – with this refining and chiselling of alot of things you will get the odd echo where something you once liked was located or where you feel there’s a tiny speck missing. This is understandable as the game is even bigger than it was before now hitting two disks and there are extra avenues where some have been lost.
This sequel has cleaned its act up majorly even though it was already a great experience it’s inspiring to see a substantial effort anyway to fix and improve the best qualities of Mass Effect 2. The exploring of the universe is balanced beautifully now with some of the less favoured bits gone and more of the things that appeal to gamers like things to collect and to achieve that 100% completion mark. The conversations are superbly staged now with no jagged view or movements, the moody lighting also helps bring an extra dimension of intricacy to your eyes. The series has great potential for growth especially with this improved sequel as it closes features that didn’t work and in return opens two more, a game never to be missed by Sci-fi fans.