Mass Effect 2 Review
I’m an awkward age being 30. I just missed out on the hype when Star Wars first came around so didn’t really appreciate how much The Empire Strikes Back left fans longing for more. When I was old enough to appreciate the nuances and quality of the original Star Wars trilogy I just had to pop the VHS tapes in one after another. Sure, I thoroughly enjoyed Empire Strikes back and it gave me more to contemplate than A New Hope did, but only having to wait five minutes to rewind the tape on Return of The Jedi didn’t leave room for soulful reflection on the intricacies of the plot in Empire. Imagine having to wait 3 years to find out the ramifications of Vader being Skywalker’s father?
Yet I found myself in this position now with Mass Effect 2. The first Mass Effect was good. If you are a Sci-Fi fan then it was heaven – taking to the stars to explore worlds, stunning combat and clever character development, which is made through choices you as the main player make and shapes how the game unfolds. What has changed with the second instalment is much like The Empire Strikes Back within the Star Wars trilogy. A larger threat has been discovered right at the beginning of our new adventure and the choices that John Shepard makes this time around not only affects how the game plays out but also how the third instalment will play.
I have never had the pleasure of playing a game where I know that the choices I make truly do make a difference to the gameplay. Of course being the good guy that I am, I was always hopelessly trying “to do the right thing” and I found myself frequently running around the galaxy trying to please everyone. However during the play through I noticed something happening. For every five or six good things I did, I found myself doing a renegade action. Just as Skywalker had to toughen up during his rite of passage through Jedi-hood, Shepard this time has to upset some people to serve the greater good.
This is where ME2 shines through and does BioWare proud. Character development is stunning. With so many choices given to you to form a squad and take different individuals on missions, it’s nothing short of breathtaking how alive each member is. Aside from missions tailored specifically for them, it is a joy to hear the opinions on whomever you happen to have with you on quests that have nothing to do with them. It truly fleshes out their characters and allows you to build up empathy with each member. At times I struggled to decide who to bring on each mission. Their combat abilities are one thing to consider but you will quickly develop nothing short of favoritism towards other members, picking them even though they may not be the best suited.
One thing I lament the loss of is the M35 Mako. The all terrain transport from the first game is missing, favouring a new approach to planet exploration in the form of a planetary scanner. Said scanner can sweep the surface of the planet to find and send out probes to collect vital minerals to build upgrades and prototypes. Whilst perfectly logical to need the scanner with the new research and build side quests then having to gather the material with the Mako would prove to be a too time consuming process, it’s still sad to see the ATV go.
As the story goes it is on reflection a lot simpler and narrow focused than the original, the majority of your game will be gathering and making loyal your crew. From the advertisements in the media you know the crew is diverse so each recruitment mission varies wildly from the other, as are the sub missions that affect how loyal your new crew member is. Each member soon has a favour to ask of Shepard and whilst you can ignore the request, a loyal crew member not only is a happy one, but a more powerful one. In this regard a fair portion of your middle ground of the game will take place with these missions and sub missions regarding the characters and not serve as a proving ground to build up your XP, but also as vital character developments for each crew member.
Of your crew two faces will return from the original – Garrus and Tali, everyone else is new blood. Old faces will return however and depending on the choices you made during Mass Effect they will be in the positions you left them / steered them to. If you do not import a character from ME1 then it means you will play out the story in a scenario as BioWare would have played the first game, with story arcs and characters in roles they decide upon.
Otherwise the story continues with characters as you left off. As good as this second instalment is, it is made better if you played the first. Having a history with the characters due to them being crew mates from the first, it’s far more rewarding to see how they have progressed whilst you have been away.
Combat seems a little more tight this time round. Rather than upgrading Shepard to be more proficient with assault rifles or heavy pistols, this time you upgrade the weapons themselves and whilst you will naturally concentrate on upgrading the weaponry you use the most, at least in the heat of battle if you run out of ammunition for your favourite rifle you can take solace in the fact Shepard will be proficient with your second or third option. You will only find yourself upgrading the type of weapon two maybe three times. In the first game it seemed you could find a new type of assault rifle around every corner, this time however the pace of the game will not allow it.
During my playthrough I explored every loyalty mission and recruited every character to my cause, spent some time exploring uncharted worlds and completed a few side missions. I managed to climb to level 24 and took 26 hours from start to finish. The story itself does seem to move along at a faster pace than the first game, the showdown at the end being particularly swiftly paced. It does not seem rushed mind, it’s just that the story dictates that you move quickly, with a sense of urgency. Decisions that you make regarding the Normandy SE2 also affect what happens during the final sequence. I outfitted the ship with some optional extras that in hindsight really needed to be there, had they not I shudder to think what would have happened.
You see there – I shuddered to think… I really do and that is the biggest asset of Mass Effect 2 and the experience of playing it. It does not feel like you are playing an experience that BioWare hoped you will enjoy, YOU are part of an experience that YOU help create, in scenarios that YOUR actions have placed you in. With the decisions you make at the end of Mass Effect 2 promising to affect how Mass Effect 3 starts and plays even more so this time around, I can only hope that I made the right decisions. Otherwise who else is going to save humanity? Only 2 years to wait… At least I now know how they felt when they came out of the cinema having watched The Empire Strikes Back.