Review: Mass Effect 2

In November of 2007, BioWare’s Mass Effect was released.  The years leading up to its release were full of promises of an RPG experience unlike anything we’ve ever seen before.  Stunningly beautiful graphics, a highly deep and rewarding dialog system, and a story that can change in the blink of an eye. That was just the tip of the iceberg.

Mass Effect 2 is an action-RPG sequel to 2007’s Mass Effect that puts you in the shoes of Commander Shepard once again.  Shepard and his crew on the Normandy are on patrol for geth, when the ship is attacked.  Shepard does not survive the attack and his lifeless body lands on an unknown planet.  The story doesn’t end there though as a shadow broker group known as Cerberus collects Shepard’s body and spends two years attempting to reanimate it.  They are successful with reviving Shepard and recruit him to fight for the organization.  The story from then on out can differ as Mass Effect 2 allows you to import a Mass Effect 1 save, which can offer some rewards depending on how much time you put into the original game.  Decisions made in Mass Effect will continue to effect your experience in Mass Effect 2, both small and large.

Mass Effect 2 features six different classes with varying strengths and weaknesses.  Each class plays different from the other so most players should feel comfortable as they progress through Mass Effect 2’s massive story.  When Shepard levels up, he can apply points to his talents.  Depending on the character class chosen, talents spent can be used for various upgrades such as learning new biotics or bonuses to Shepard’s stats.  The customization doesn’t stop there as you can fully customize Shepard’s face, armor, and even his sex.  There is no bonus to being either a male or female Shepard, instead, the way they interact with others can vary slightly such as Shepard’s love interest.

Character interaction plays a huge part in Mass Effect 2, as it did in Mass Effect.  The dialog system stayed true to the original game’s, allowing Shepard to converse with others in order to obtain information that can help with his missions or to progress the overall story.  The Paragon & Renegade dialog options also make a return and unlock specific dialog options, depending on how many Paragon or Renegade options you’ve chosen.  One addition to the dialog system is the context-sensitive controls, which allows Shepard to take either a Renegade or Paragon action that will interrupt the current conversation.

If actions speak louder than words, then Shepard’s improved combat skills can be quite deafening.  When Shepard shoots, you’ll now hit what you’re aiming at, similar to First-Person Shooter controls.  Shepard is still able to sprint and hide behind cover, but now he is also able to vault over small obstacles which improves the flow of combat.  The HUD to perform biotic attacks also received a slight tweak as it no longer completely blocks the action on-screen.  Players can also bind buttons to Shepard’s and his squad’s biotic ability so the pace of combat isn’t ceased every couple of seconds in order to input a new command.  Not only did the combat receive an improvement, but the variety of weapons as well.  Mass Effect 2 has approximately nineteen different weapons, some of which include new heavy weapons and sub-machine guns. Also gone are armor classes, which are replaced by simply researching upgrades to your squad’s armor.

Researching new weapons, armor, and other various improvements requires resources that Shepard must obtain during his travels.  Shepard can either stumble onto these resources during missions, or take the more practical approach and probe planets for their resources.  Probing planets may sound like a bore, but it’s actually quite entertaining, especially if you’re dying for the latest and greatest improvement.  Shepard can use the Normandy to orbit over a planet, scan for resources, and then extract those resources with a probe.  When Shepard has met the requirements to research the upgrade (often ‘x’ amount of resource), depending on the item researched, it will either be applied automatically, or, in the case of armor and weapon upgrades, be made available for use.

Exploring the many galaxies in Mass Effect 2 is a more interactive experience as you’re able to fly the Normandy via the Galaxy Map.  Exploration is made easier as the game helps guide you where each quest lies by highlighting galaxies, systems, and even the planet a particular mission is on.  You can even explore the unexplored to gather resources or stumble on to side missions.  The amount of missions & side missions in Mass Effect 2 are amazing and can keep players busy for hours.

As important as the missions are, there’s no way Shepard could do any of it alone.  Much of your time spent in Mass Effect 2 will be used to assemble your squad.  As you progress through the story, Cerberus will supply dossiers on potential squad candidates.  Each squad member has their own purpose as to why they choose to help Shepard, as well as their own strengths and weaknesses in combat.  You can also take your relationships with particular squad members to a higher degree by taking the time to help them in various side missions made available later on in the game.  Completing these missions aren’t necessary to the main plot of Mass Effect 2, but completing them will allow your squad members to trust you, which unlocks a new talent specifically for that squad member.

Mass Effect 2 pushes the Xbox 360 to its limits with its detailed and unique environments.  Much of your time will be spent traveling from planet to planet gathering intel for your missions, but Mass Effect 2 does a fantastic job at giving each location its own persona.  Whether you visit The Citadel, Omega, or Illium, every location is easily distinguishable and that’s not an easy feat when you consider how grandiose Mass Effect 2 is.  Character models are also given a lot of detail and, in Miranda’s case, very pleasing to the eye.  This is especially evident during moments of dialog, as the camera zooms in to focus on the character’s facial structures and mannerisms.

What good are gorgeous character models if the voice acting is terrible?  Thankfully, the voice acting is top-notch as not one character, whether they be important or just someone passing by, gives a sub-par performance.  Hollywood elites Yvonne Strahovski & Marteen Sheen lend their voices for two important characters and their performances are flawless.  It also benefits players to pay attention to small details in the game, such as the Galaxy News kiosks or hearing a recording of Shepard endorsing his “favorite store in the citadel” as these little gems can really make the game more enjoyable.

FINAL THOUGHT: As massive and critically-acclaimed Mass Effect was, Mass Effect 2 improves on many aspects of the original title.  Combat is smooth, the story keeps players interested from beginning to end, and the character development is done so well, you actually care about each and every one of your squad mates.  Being able to carry over decisions from Mass Effect assist in engrossing the player into the game world.  Mass Effect 2 is a shining example of how deep and enriching a video game can be when it achieves perfection.


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