I mentioned in an earlier post that one of the few video games I was excited to play was Mass Effect 2. I don’t own an Xbox 360 so I had to wait until the Playstation 3 version was released this past month to experience the game. I’ve had it for a few weeks and just finished my first play through last night so I figured I would post my impressions of the game.
Overall, my experience was a good one. Bioware is a pretty consistent developer and when it tackles an RPG you kind of know what you’re in for. Ever since Baldur’s Gate on the PC their RPG’s have taken the same path. Sure the perspective has changed from an overhead view to a behind the character view, and with Mass Effect the genre has switched from medieval fantasy to sci-fi space opera. The only real difference is the switch from primarily close-quarters hack and slash combat to gun play. In Baldur’s Gate/Neverwinter Nights/Dragon Age combat is done via clicking the mouse or pressing an attack button with little consideration for the player’s dexterity with a controller. This may seem like a small thing, but in ME the player actually has to aim the weapon and weather you hit or miss is entirely dependent on you, not some behind the scenes calculations done by the game. Even in those older games if you chose to go with a bow and arrow instead of a sword the only thing you had to do was click your mouse over your intended target and the game did all of the work. The approach of ME would be considered a more action based approach and one that I favor. The old method worked well when the games were trying to emulate a Dungeons & Dragons experience but are kind of dated now. At least now when I miss a target I know I missed the target.
Because of this approach to combat, the leveling system is rather simplistic. In other games as your character advances in level you’re usually given a pool of ability points that will improve your character in one of 8 or so possibilities. They’re pretty generic across all games, usually Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence, and so on. In ME2 there
are no such statistics and instead your character starts off able to put ability points into his talents you select at the start of your game. The talents available depend on what class you go with. I always prefer stealth and assassin type characters so my Commander Shepard is a male Infiltrator. As such he began the game with access to two ammo types, a tactical cloak, incinerate, AI hacking (ability to commandeer robotic enemies), and the generic squad leader type of thing. Later in the game, you get the ability to add another talent dependent on if you do your squad members’ specific loyalty quest. This adds another possibility depending on whom you recruit. I went with the fortification talent which allows my Shepard to increase his defense for a short duration.
I mentioned my Shepard is male and had I wanted it to be so he could have been a she. This has no effect on gameplay outside of the romance options. It’s become some-what common in Bioware games to give the player a possible romantic interest
in each game. Usually they’re pretty liberal and give you male and female options no matter what gender your character is but here it’s hetero all the way. Yes, there is a pseudo lesbian relationship should you choose to pursue it but it’s basically a one night stand type of deal and I don’t think it is something that will carry over into Mass Effect 3. As far as I know, the female Shepard has two choices for a boy-toy, Jake and the alien Garrus, while a male Shapard gets his pick of three lovely ladies in Miranda, Jack, and Mass Effect 1 holdover Tali. Tali is the alien option if that’s your fetish while Miranda is the babe and Jack is the hardened but secretly vulnerable option. I went with the babe and romanced her throughout the game giving me a corny sex scene to enjoy before the final mission. And in case you’re wondering, no, you don’t see anything beyond what’s present on daytime television.
Anyways, the bulk of the game is spent on your ship the Normandy as you traverse solar systems in search of quests. The main objective is to assemble a crew, acquire what is called the Reaper IFF, and complete the “suicide mission” to take out the enemy. The main story-line only consists of about 4 missions and, if you wish, the game could be completed fairly quickly. If you go the speedy route though you risk failure as it is entirely possible to beat the game but have your Shepard meet the reaper as a result. The opposite is also true and that suicide label they place over the fateful mission can be brushed aside. In my first attempt I lost one squad member during the final mission. It occurred off-screen so I re-loaded a save and changed my team around until I was able to keep everyone alive and have a nice clean save to import into Mass Effect 3. The survival rate depends on if they’re loyal to you and how you deploy them. You’re given decisions such as picking an engineer for a specific task and someone to be a squad leader for a secondary strike force. Choose someone not fit for a given role and they run the risk of dying. Also, while you and two squad mates take on the final boss the rest of your team is left to hold position. There’s a random chance the less hardy characters will perish during this, which is what happened to me. So I put the character who died into my squad and re-played the final boss fight and was able to achieve the “perfect” ending.
If the game had sucked, I would have never made it that far and thankfully the game is a lot better than suck, it’s pretty awesome. While the version I played was released this year, I still consider this a 2010 release. Given that, it’s probably my second favorite game from 2010 behind only Red Dead Redemption. They’re both totally different experiences though so it does little to compare the two. ME2 is pretty
simple in its execution. You always lead a team of three and you have free choice over who is in your squad (unless you’re doing a character specific loyalty mission, then that character needs to be in your squad). You only can play as Shepard but you can issue commands to the other two in your squad. The commands are pretty simple but get the job done. You can tell them to stay close or go ahead and give them specific places to stand. You also have access to their weapon and tech wheels and are able to micro-manage fights if you desire. I was a mostly hands-off squad leader when it came to weapons, but I would direct my squads bio-tech powers where necessary. For the most part the AI is competent, though they’re not afraid to cross in front of you when you’re firing which can get annoying. Especially when you’re trying to score a head-shot with a sniper rifle.
The tech powers I’ve alluded to function like magic in other Bioware games. Some are even just like old spells such as incinerate, which is basically a fireball. Whenever a character uses one there’s a cool down period of a few seconds where no other tech powers can be used. The ammo powers do not apply and they last until you switch them out. I was quite fond of my Shepard’s cryo ammo, a cold based attribute that would freeze enemies after a few hits. I’d equip that to my sub-machine gun, which was by default adept at cutting through armor, and enjoyed great success that way. My Shepard also had a cloaking device which made him invisible for a quick duration. This was good if I found myself getting blasted and needed to get away. It’s best use though is that when firing from a cloaked position your attack goes up, especially if you invest enough squad points to max it out (20 squad points are needed to get an ability to level 4, the highest it can go). By the end of the game I was using my cloak as an offensive weapon, constantly cloaking and firing my sniper rifle to score 1-hit kills on most enemies.
The sniper rifle was easily my favorite weapon and preferred method of combat. It didn’t work well in close-quarters but that’s a given. The only downside is the best sniper rifle available to me can only hold 13 shots maximum, so running out of ammo was a constant annoyance. In this game you don’t necessarily use ammo, instead you gather cooling clips that cool down your weapon. It functions the same as ammo though. Enemies drop these clips but not always, so you never had to buy ammo but running out mid-mission does occur. The second best sniper rifle is a semi-auto gun that can hold 50-something rounds but it’s counter-balanced by its weakness against armored foes. This isn’t a drawback early in the game but by the game’s end most enemies are shielded in some way. You can outfit Shepard with pieces of armor that increase ammo capacity but usually only by 5 or 10% making it ultimately not worth it. I’d rather equip something more beneficial.
Shepard has four weapons at all times and the ones available depend on Shepard’s class. My Shepard had a standard pistol (I assume all have this no matter the class), a fully-automatic machine gun, a sniper rifle, and the heavy weapon slot. The heavy weapon is common to all Shepard’s and what’s available depends on what you’ve found or invested in. I mostly stuck with the collector particle beam. All of them are potent though, and you have to find special heavy ammo to use them on any given mission. This encourages you to only use them when absolutely necessary. Other weapons in the game include shotguns and assault rifles, which my Shepard could not use but certain squad members could. Each weapon category has 2 to 3 options that you find or purchase over the course of the game. Each one has 4 upgrades that increase damage output or ammo capacity.
Shepard can also customize his armor. There are full outfits available (such as the Blood Dragon armor if you have a Dragon Age save on your machine) or just pieces that can be mixed and match. Early in the game the outfits are probably the way to go, especially if you have access to the Dragon armor, but once you’ve compiled enough pieces you’ll probably want to mix and match. You can also customize the color and details of the armor for a unique look.
Equipment and upgrades can be found or purchased. The game’s currency is credits, and you find credits during missions and are awarded credits for completing missions. Upgrades can be researched at the Normandy and consume resources. There are four resource types in the game that can be found during missions, but in order to get all of the upgrades you’ll have to mine for them on planets. The mining mini game is boring but ultimately not very time consuming. I was able to stockpile more than enough of each of the four resources to research everything I needed to. As you add crew members they’ll give Shepard suggestions on upgrades that you can research. Researching the available Normandy upgrades leads to a better survival rate during the last mission.
Your crew can be as big or as small as you want it to be, it’s your choice. I chose to recruit everyone and complete each one’s loyalty quest. Having a loyal crew member gives them access to their best abilities for you to invest squad points in and also
gives them a second attire. If you want to pursue a romance you also need that individual to be loyal to Shepard. There are a couple of moments in the game where your loyalty to certain crew members will be tested. Choose unwisely and you will lose the loyalty of a crew member and the chance for romance. An un-loyal crew member is far more likely to perish during the game’s final mission than a loyal one.
The loyalty quests were pretty much universally entertaining. Some are better than others, but they all provide insight into the character’s history. You can also speak with your crew members at any time on the Normandy, but some are more tight-lipped than others. Getting them to open up is when the loyalty mission becomes available. Your Yeoman, Kelly, will also inform you if someone wants to talk to you. Some loyalty missions can be failed, and doing so will prevent that character from ever being loyal to you, so be careful.
If you lose the loyalty of a crew member you will need a high paragon or renegade score to win their loyalty back. Whether you are high in one or the other depends on the choices you’ve made throughout the game. In general, paragon choices are more honorable and heroic, while renegade ones are ruthless and bad ass. I went the renegade route. These two roles should not be confused with good and evil, though there is at least one choice that I can think of that could qualify as such. Nonetheless, the choice is yours. You have a meter for each that fills as you make choices dependent on that role. They are independent of each other though, meaning if you do something to increase your paragon score it will not decrease your renegade score. For the most part, it doesn’t matter which one you’re high in so long as you have a high score in one, though I did find that I could not win Tali’s loyalty (after losing it) with a max renegade score but could do so with the character of Legion. This leads me to believe if you lose Tali’s loyalty only a high paragon score can win her back and maybe the inverse is true of Legion. Certain crew members seem to respond better to renegade vs paragon. Grunt is a good example who seems to value the directness and toughness of a renegade Shepard.
Ultimately, I had a really good time with this game. It took me just over 40 game hours to beat it but it didn’t feel that long. I played on the normal difficulty setting and found it to be a suitable challenge. Certain areas were harder than others but nothing overwhelming. The hardest areas were just the ones not geared towards my style of play, such as areas with swarming melee enemies better suited for a shotgun wielding Shepard. I died here and there, but the game’s auto-save is pretty generous so dying was rarely frustrating and often just pointed out that my approach was wrong. The biggest flaw this game has is a minor one, the load times. The load times are too long for a game released in 2010 and too frequent, especially on the Normandy. Changing floors necessitates a lengthy load which gets annoying. They’re probably 25-30 seconds in length, which doesn’t sound like much, but is noticeable. I never saw mention of the loading times in reviews so I assume the length is pretty consistent across all platforms and would be longer if you chose not to install it to your hard drive. The game also froze up on me maybe half a dozen times, which is unusual for my PS3.
I enjoyed the combat in the game and also the supporting characters. The combat gave me a suitable number of options when approaching a given situation, though I would suggest a greater variety in abilities for the sequel. The same can be said for the available weapons. The characters are well done from an aesthetic standpoint and a personality one. The two downloadable ones are noticeably less interesting than the ones created for the game initially but that is to be expected. The character of Zaed, for example, is a throw-away. Some abilities and strengths overlap amongst the characters which makes many of them interchangeable. I assume that was the goal but I wouldn’t mind seeing a greater variety here as well. The voice acting is very good for each one as well. The odd exception is the voice actor for Shepard (the male one, at least) which is pretty spotty. I assume that’s because they tried to make him kind of neutral sounding, except when picking an obvious renegade or paragon option, but it is distracting and could be improved upon.
Mass Effect 2 may not have reignited my passion for video gaming but it did at least create an interest in this series. It’s both a refreshing and familiar style of gaming for Bioware and one that I found more entertaining than Dragon Age. I’m looking forward to Mass Effect 3 and am quite eager to continue my Commander Shepard’s journey. I don’t know where it will lead but I’m sure I’ll enjoy the ride.