This generation has been very hit and miss for RPGs, with a lot of them becoming very forgettable for most gamers. Although as time goes on, Western developed RPGs continue to dominate the market, very few have actually made their mark as successes, with the original Mass Effect being one of the sole exceptions. And despite its many gameplay flaws, the original game had quite a fascinating story and fantastic world to explore. How does Mass Effect 2 stack up?
In short: Mass Effect 2 takes everything that was great about the first one, removes what didn’t work, and puts it all together into a very streamlined RPG experience. This game could bring together shooter fans and RPG fans in a way that has never been done before, and it does so in a way that both satisfies fans of the first game while appeasing to a new crowd.
The story follows Commander Shepard once again as he (or she) is nearly killed in action and brought back to life by a shady organization known as Cerberus. He is recruited to bring together a special team to stop a group of hostile aliens known as the Collectors. Those are the very basics, and if you import your save file from the first game, your actions carry over into the sequel and impact certain pieces of the story. It’s a well crafted an excellently told story supported by an amazing cast of characters.
The game looks brilliant, and none of the technical problems that were present in the original are found here. The framerate is steady throughout, there are no graphical hiccups or texture pop-ins at all, and everything just looks more polished. What hasn’t changed is the voice acting, which is as excellent as ever, with an all-star cast of actors joining in, as well as returning actors from the original.
The gameplay is broken into two sections, the story portions and the action game portions. The story portions, in which you interact with characters and pick from a dialog tree, is just as enjoyable as in the first game. You basically have three options during conversations: a Paragon choice (for the heroes), a neutral choice, and a Renegade choice (for the anti-heroes). Also like the first, your choices will determine how things in the story play out.
The shooting mechanics in the first game felt off, and never really provided the player with satisfying gameplay. The developers tried too hard to balance both the RPG elements and the shooting elements, and it did not feel like either genre; it was more along the lines of a poor blend of the two. Mass Effect 2 changes this completely, and feels just as good as the best third person shooters, if not better.
So yes, this game plays a lot more like a shooter than an RPG, but that is far from a bad thing. Some people may not enjoy how streamlined the experience is, with less focus on RPG elements and learning different skills and more on the core shooting mechanics. This is far from a bad thing, as it suits the game perfectly and feels like an excellent mix of both genres more so than the first ever did.
Instead of a cumbersome inventory, players now have a smaller selection of weapons, and if they pick one up that is stronger than the one they have, it is equipped automatically. The weapons can all be upgraded too, as can your armor, thus removing the equip screen completely from the menu. It’s a much needed change and it makes the game move at a much faster pace instead of bogging it down unnecessarily.
To do any upgrades for your weapons, armor, and the ship itself, you need to mine for minerals on different planets. This mining mini-game feels a lot like a chore than something you would want to do for fun, but it’s not such a huge part of the game that it ever bogs the experience down.
Also, the galaxy itself feels more open for exploration, and while most planets you can visit offer nothing more than minerals to mine for, some offer different side quests that are generally very fun and never get tedious. You’ll feel the urge to explore every planet and galaxy before you move on in the main story, which is an accomplishment in of itself.
You will recruit a total of ten people in the main story, and they all are incredibly likeable characters that will truly feel like a part of your crew. Tali and Garrus from the original return and can be recruited again, but the rest of your team is comprised of new characters, each with their own unique abilities. Unlike in the first game, you won’t feel compelled to stick with one main party, as each mission may require different squad members with different abilities.
Also, as you get to know each person on your team, loyalty missions will come up that allow you to explore the character’s past, and if done correctly, will impact the final mission of the game for the better. Although certain characters are more fleshed out than others, you’ll feel that they all fit in perfectly in this universe.
Overall, Mass Effect 2 is a stunning achievement that will be remembered as one of the best RPG experiences of the past decade, if not of all time. It certainly is the best RPG I’ve played in the past five years. And it continues to prove that BioWare knows exactly how to not only improve from their mistakes, but they also know how to make some of the most compelling games of all time. This is a must own game for any gamer.
Pros: Excellent story; brilliant cast of characters; truly imaginative and open world; amazing presentation; the gameplay is streamlined and incredibly fun; a huge improvement over the original in every way
Cons: Mining mini-game can become tedious