Mass Effect 2 opens with an intense introduction scene, essentially resetting the game for newcomers to the series without ruining the consistency for players of the first game. The game then continues two years later as Shepard once again takes up the task of saving humanity; this time from a race of human harvesting insectoid-like creatures, fittingly called, Collectors. Shepard joins with Cerberus, the human equality group seen in passing in the first game under direct control from The Illusive Man. Think of him as Ernst Blofeld meets Alan Sugar. Shepard must bring together a selection of the galaxy’s fiercest fighters, skilled biotics and intelligent technicians to eliminate the Collector threat.
The original Mass Effect was excellent, yet also suffered from a number of flaws. Luckily the majority of these flaws have been addressed in the second instalment. Most notably, the combat. You can instantly feel that you are playing a different and improved game. The controls feel a lot smoother and enemies react differently depending on where your bullets hit. A headshot provides more damage; a shot to the leg will cause them to stumble. In addition, the overheating system has been removed and replaced with standard ammo clips. It may sound like an unimportant difference but the combat experience is greatly improved because of it. There is no more waiting around in cover for the heat to dissipate allowing for more action oriented combat. Although, the combat has kept some tactical elements; you can still direct your squad to specific locations and order them to use specific powers sometimes in combination with your own for devastating effect. Unfortunately, sometimes they decide to charge head first into battle if they are not given any direction, causing some annoying deaths.
Another major improvement is the classes. There is a stronger distinction between classes with each given their own specific ability alongside returning powers from the first game. For example, the ‘vanguard’ class, a mix of combat and biotics, is granted the charge ability. This allows them to...charge towards an enemy dealing damage and sending them flying backwards for an easy kill. This further personalises your own Shepard and encourages multiple playthroughs to try out each class.
The space exploration element has also undergone a major change. Now you pilot a miniature version of the Normandy across galaxies, stopping off at planets to detect anomalies and collect minerals for upgrades. The mineral collection mini-game is quite disappointing however. It simply boils down to moving a scanner across the planet’s surface and firing a probe whenever a mineral is detected. It gets very tedious, very quickly but of course it is completely optional. A little more thought into this area would not have gone amiss. The changes to the exploration emphasise the vastness of space you have to explore which is far more than the original did.
Bioware prides itself on its storytelling and they once again prove they are one of the best at it in the gaming industry. The story is suitably grand for a far reaching space adventure and some of the characters you interact with, whether they can join you or not, are quite remarkable. There are a number of tried and tested archetypes too; however they fit well within the game’s story. Conversations work in exactly the same way as the original allowing you to be good or bad through the use of the ‘renegade’ and ‘paragon’ system. The addition this time around is an interrupt feature during some exchanges. With a pull of the left or right trigger Shepard will take a decisive kind or aggressive action with some of the results being wonderful to witness. You’ll enjoy speaking to most of your fellow team members. Thane is certainly one of the most interesting characters on your team and the stories of his past kept me returning to speak to him.
However, at times though I thought that some characters were far too open too quickly. Arriving on the Normandy and then moments later revealing some of their innermost feelings removed the potential of spending time to get to know the characters like in Dragon Age: Origins. This probably reflects the target audience for Mass Effect 2 rather than the quality of the game’s writing and actually works as a fairly decent metaphor for the game as a whole.
This is because Mass Effect 2 is an incredibly streamlined action-rpg. The cluttered item management menus and extended character development grids have been removed for much simpler and refined options. This does not detract from the experience at all and actually helps to provide the game with a greater focus so you spend more time shooting and conversing and less time micro-managing your equipment and upgrades in clumsy menus.
You know a game is fantastic when after 14 hours of straight play time you finally decide to stop because you can no longer keep your eyes open. Mass Effect 2 shines in every aspect and is only let down in a few minor areas; which in the grand scheme of things do not detract much from the game at all. Offering an epic storyline in an expansive universe; interesting characters; satisfying and exciting combat, Mass Effect 2 is the best game of 2010 so far.