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    Default Ntruder's Mass Effect 2 Review

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    Mass Effect 2



    Xbox 360, PC

    Action/RPG




    The original Mass Effect was an outstanding concept that missed the goalposts in many aspects for me. It mixed the great RPG formula from Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic with real time combat and a galaxy not so far far away. You play as humans in the not so distant future. The setting is easier to get enveloped in than the Star Wars stories are, because, well, its actually about Earth's humanity and not some alien race that look exactly like humans; its more personal. Mass Effect mastered the storytelling formula by letting the player direct the conversation through a dialog wheel, then assigning points and different outcomes based on your choices. Although there were a lot of things it didn't do well. The combat, first of all, was very weak. The guns were sloppy and inaccurate, resulting in the feeling that you were playing a menu driven RPG rather than a real time shooter RPG. There were 4 types of weapons, with 5 or so classes or brands, and probably 6-10 levels of each one, but all guns fired exactly the same, and basically all looked the same. The inventory system was sloppy to say the least. There were cookie cutter side quests that had you running through the exact same buildings and corridors on the opposite side of the galaxy. There was pointless driving on empty planets and boring vehicle combat. And there were many technical issues that left the game stuttering a lot.

    All of these things have been fixed in Mass Effect 2. In fact, I think its safe to say that Mass Effect 2 is better in virtually every way than Mass Effect 1. And not just marginally better; substantially better. There are a few cases where Bioware may have over-corrected some things, which I'll get into later. But for the most part, every aspect of this game has been dramatically improved.


    STORY & PRESENTATION

    I only got through ME1 start to finish once, and I thought Shepard died at the end. But it turns out he's alive... Well, for a minute at least. ME2 starts with Shepard dying. Through the magic of futuristic technology, Shepard is brought back to life so he can take on a serious threat to Humanity. The Reapers, an ancient race of non-biological extra-terrestrials, have employed the Collectors to do their bidding this time around. After the events of ME1, these Collectors began rounding up entire human colonies without firing a shot. Shepard is resurrected to investigate; but first, he must build a team. This is where the bulk of the story lies; in Shepard recruiting a team of the deadliest assassins, soldiers, and mercs in the galaxy to go on a suicide mission through the Omega 4 relay to stop the Collectors.

    Your team starts with just two. Jacob, a reliable shooter with biotic powers, and Miranda, the deliberately smoking hot female sexual interest, who also happens to be a real asset on the battlefield. You will recruit at least another 7 or 8 characters of all different races and specialty to go on your final mission and take out the Collectors. This game is not so much your quest against the Collectors as it is your quest to build up your team for your quest against the Collectors. Like I said, the bulk of your time goes into building your team. The vast majority of it actually. I generally don't dock games based on storytelling decisions I don't like that are based sheerly on opinion, (unless they're really crappy like the nazi zombies in Uncharted) but its worth noting that I found the story arc to be a little funky and anti-clamatic. The whole time, I perceived the main story as being this upcoming crusade, and the team recruitment was just the first step. I spent a good 18 hours building my team, doing their personal "loyalty" missions, other side quests and whatnot, then when I was done with everything else, I jumped through the Omega 4 relay half expecting the start of a long campaign against the Collectors on their home turf, and ended up watching the credits an hour later. It seemed like somewhat of an anti-climatic finish. They could have put a little more emphasis on the importance of the recruitment, instead of making it seem like a task that needs to be done before we can go deal with our problem. Knowing this about the story, the second playthrough is a lot better because you can focus on and enjoy the story for what it is, instead of rushing through the team building to get to the meat, only to find that the team building WAS the meat. I don't want to say I felt deceived, but one way or another, I felt like the emphasis of the story wasn't put in the right place. The main quests seemed more like hoops I had to jump through before I could get to the real important stuff. The good news is that this doesn't have a huge impact on the game as a whole, because there are plenty of other aspects to more than make up for the slightly anti-climatic story.

    The real story of Mass Effect 2 is the characters; your team. Each recruitment mission dives into their past; what motivates them, who they are. And for each character, there becomes an available loyalty gaining mission that resolves some past conflict for them and allows Shepard to gain their loyalty to the mission at hand. With loyalty, you'll also gain new powers for that player. I was unable to gain/keep the loyalty of all squad members on the first playthrough, so its not as simple as just doing a quick mission and being done with it. These characters don't all get along; many of them have racial history and some are just plain assholes. Take your time with these missions; pay attention to the characters and their ordeals and you'll get the most out of the story. The characters drive the story.

    The overall presentation is thrilling and cinematic. My gripes are solely related to the shape of the story arc; but the truth is, this is The Empire Strikes Back, not A New Hope. The storytelling is overall masterful and integrated perfectly into the player's play style. Making Paragon vs Renegade decisions totally change your attitude towards your mission and your goals as a player. During my first playthrough, my mood was "get out of my way or I'll kill you" and my outcomes followed suit. The second playthrough, I've taken a more "let's help these people" approach, and the outcomes again, follow suit. Absolutely brilliant level of player's personal style integrated into the story.


    GAMEPLAY & MECHANICS

    3rd person shooters are tough games to nail the mechanics because of camera issues; you're not nearly as mobile as an FPS, because an FPS, you shoot the direction you face. In a 3rd person shooter, you have to whip the camera around 180 degrees to deal with a flanker shooting you in the back. Few have done it great. Many have done it mediocre. Action/RPG shooters are usually the ones that fall flat, because their main focus is elsewhere. But Mass Effect 2 nails it. This game could stand alone as a 3rd person squad shooter.

    The combat engine appears to have been built from the ground up. To me, it barely resembled the engine in ME1. The aiming is smooth and precise. The guns are forceful and accurate. Shooting them feels real instead of boring and lifeless in ME1. The special powers kick ass in so many ways. The squad commands are easy to pull off. And the cover system is excellent as well. Basically, the A button sticks you to cover. You can run with A and stick to cover with an automatic slide move, similar to Gears of War. Lean out of cover with LB and fire with RB. Target people while safely in cover, pull out and shoot. Or stay in cover, aim at an enemy, and launch a biotic or tech attack. Enemies use cover well, so to avoid this game being a standard duck and cover 3rd person shooter, Bioware allows you to bend the trajectory of your powers. Most classes have some form of Biotic or Tech attacks that throw an energy projectile at the enemy of choice. If they are in cover that is exposed from the right, simply target the enemy, move the cursor to the right, and throw a biotic blast that will boomerang around their cover and nail them! This doesn't always work; sometimes the cover is too far and you can't properly bend your shot, but this adds to the strategy of the combat. Forces you to work your way up to more desirable positions. You can also command a squad member to take a position somewhere, so if you have an enemy with a strong tech shield and your powers aren't hitting him or aren't taking the shield down, send a squad mate who has Overload to a position where they have a shot and have them use Overload on the guy to take his tech shield off so you can shoot him with Warp or something.

    That leads me to the next section to discuss; powers and abilities. In short, there are three main types of specialty powers/abilities, tech powers, biotic powers, and weapon modifiers. Tech powers are mostly electrical or mechanical related, while Biotic powers are Jedi type abilities, and the weapon modifiers are things like incendiary ammo and such. Each of the 6 character classes have a different mix of these powers and ammo modifiers. Soldier class have all weapon related skills, Adepts have all Biotic related skills, and Engineers have all tech related skills. Sentinals, Vanguards, and Infiltrators are a hodgepodge. Who you choose has a pretty big impact on how you play, especially on the higher difficulty levels. Enemies have two kinds of shields, tech and biotic barriers, and some powers just don't work against one or the other. So it becomes very important to have a diversity of powers on your squad selection. If you are an Adept with all biotic powers and you're playing on Hardcore, you're probably going to get slaughtered if you don't have some heavy tech powered teammates running with you, because your Biotic powers won't do squat against enemies with strong tech shields. So there really is some decent strategy that is involved in this game. Nothing like an Uncharted where your goal is to simply shoot everything in the room.

    Mass Effect 2 does appear to have a heavy gun bias; the guns do a lot more damage per second than some of the tech/biotic attacks, so to balance this, Bioware incorporated "ammo" of sorts, in order to force you to diversify your attacks; unless of course you are a soldier and you have lots of guns, ammo, and ammo modifiers. You'll rarely run out of ammo, because there is plenty of it laying around, but it forces you to move if you want to keep shooting, otherwise, use your abilities. Also, on the tougher difficulty levels, you'll get ripped to shreds if you just stand out of cover shooting all day. The powers only expose you for a brief moment and allow you to mostly stay in cover, where shooting exposes you the whole time. So this really makes the experience a lot better, because nothing is worse than a game that is designed to be one thing, but spirals into a crappy shooter because they don't incentivize playing it the right way. (See: Metal Gear Solid 4) Mass Effect 2 wants you to use your squad and all your powers, and not stand there shooting all day, so they brilliantly give you subtle incentives to do so. This was a major flaw in ME1. I found the powers to be kinda useless, due to long recharge times, so I played the game like a shooter, and didn't enjoy it that much. The combat in Mass Effect 2 is enthralling. It is so satisfying to hit a guy with a level 4 throw; as it nails his chest, my subwoofer rumbles and the enemy is thrown off the screen with a huge force.

    There is plenty of room for improvement in this game. For example, there is no crouch function. Odd considering how much damage you can take moving from cover to cover. It felt a little strange not having a crouch at first, but then again, Gears of War doesn't have one. Also there's no blind fire option, and close combat can get a little clunky, because you can't run in the direction that the camera isn't facing. I guess I'm just hoping that people will start emulating Army of Two, which has the best cover system of any game period.

    Another area that struck me as imperfect was the streamlined RPG functions. Mass Effect 1 suffered from clunky RPG elements; crappy inventory management, cookie cutter weapons, etc. ME2 streamlined this all, but I think they went a little too far. There are 2 Assault rifles, 2 SMGs, and 2 pistols. I think the non-hardcore action game fans can handle a little more than that. No, we don't need Borderlands' 750,000 guns, but a few more than a baker's dozen would be nice. Also, more armor, squad armor, more collectibles to appeal to the hardcore RPG enthusiast would be nice. They dumbed down the RPG elements a little too much. Not to say it really hurts the game a whole lot, but its definitely missing. There are plusses. Its nice that you don't spend all your time sifting through your inventory picking out which weapons to throw away and constantly equipping your squad with new stuff, but I think they streamlined it a little too far.

    There are 5 difficulty levels; Easy (don't bother), Normal, Veteran, Hardcore, and Insanity. I played first on Normal, and it was too easy. I was presented very little challenge. Second playthrough, I skipped Veteran and went straight to Hardcore. It is substantially more difficult. I'd recommend Veteran if you're halfway decent at games, and Normal if you're a total uncoordinated goofball. I played Vanguard on Normal, because I loved the Charge ability, but that is pretty much useless on the harder difficulty levels. I'd recommend the Sentinal class, because the Tech armor is awesome, as is every one of the Sentinals tech/biotic attacks. Sentinals are one man armies; equipped to deal with anything. Soldier is probably the easiest class, but least dynamic.


    GRAPHICS

    From a technical standpoint, this game is second to none. The facial details are the best of any game ever. The faces in Mass Effect easily top Uncharted 2, which had spectacular faces by the way. The animations on all the special abilities are awesome; the environments are well detailed and some of the backgrounds are pretty good too. One thing that really sets this game apart from other graphical leaders like Uncharted 2 is the art styling. The whole game has some great filters applied that give it a real movie feel; far more lifelike than the filter-less Uncharted 2. The level of detail in the environments is also extremely high.

    The important part about all this is that the game runs near perfectly. I can't remember any framerate hitches, slowdown, or anything. The predecessor was filled with technical issues like that, but ME2 ran excellent. Even when the screen was loaded with enemies lobbing projectiles in every direction.


    SOUND

    The guns actually sound different from each other, and they pack a punch; this is a huge plus over ME1. Overall, the sound is great in my opinion. Lots of bassy explosions, thundering gunshots, amazing dialog and voice actors, and good combat dialog. Match that with a great score; What more can you ask for? Other reviews reported some sound glitches, but I encountered none.


    LONGEVITY

    I blazed through the game on Normal in about 20 hours. You know what I did right after I beat the game? I immediately started a new playthrough on Hardcore (skipped Veteran) with a different character class and played for about 4 hours straight. That's how good this game is. With Uncharted 2 (yes, I'm going to keep using UC2 as a punching bag), I beat the game and haven't touched it since. In fact, a second playthrough hasn't even entered my mind. Not because its a bad game, but because its like watching a movie twice. Mass Effect 2's entire experience can be changed by making different decisions; the combat can be entirely changed by using a different character class, or playing with different squad members. Also, a simple change such as making your own custom face for Shepard can change the feel of the game. Playing on the harder difficulty levels is also a really rewarding experience; not because everyone is just a damage sponge or because you go down in 2 shots, but instead because different shields are applied and different tactics are stressed. It makes you think and forces you to utilize all the game offers instead of just running and gunning. I'm sure I will get several playthroughs of this game. Its that good.


    OVERALL

    STORY & PRESENTATION

    10


    Cinematic storytelling doesn't get any better in video games. Or, rather it hasn't yet.

    GAMEPLAY & MECHANICS

    9.3


    The game suffers only from some over-streamline-ization that pushes certain elements a tad to far towards the action/adventure category, but overall the gameplay is a huge strength.

    GRAPHICS

    9.7


    I'm sure there is room for improvement, but I'm not sure where.

    SOUND

    10


    Masterful; voices, sound effects, score... The whole 9 yards.

    LONGEVITY

    10


    6 classes, 5 difficulty levels, 20 hours minimum per playthrough, combat that doesn't get old, a ME1 character import function, Paragon and Renegade paths... Someone is going to have to tear the controller from your hands.

    OVERALL SCORE

    9.8


    I'm not quite ready to say its the best game I've ever played, (post Halo 2) but no game is jumping out at me as being a better choice to wield the title. Unless you have a very very short attention span when it comes to video games, you should absolutely buy this game.




    Facial details best of any video game period.


    Tech Armor is the sh____t!




    One of two combat wheels that can be brought up mid-combat to assign tasks


    My favorite character: Thane Krios, a deadly assassin/sniper
    Panasonic 65" VT60

  2. The Following 3 Users Say Thank You to Ntruder For This Useful Post:

    AxGates (02-04-2010), crhee8 (02-05-2010), GLOW (02-19-2010)

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    Awesome review of a awesome game. I'm happy you got to it, cause I can't stop starting over to try new classes. Gonna have to try Sentinel now after this review.

    Happy you reviewed it. I haven't been able to sink as much time into it as I want. If you dig the story check out the books. Great companion pieces that really expand the world.
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    HDJ Platinum Club Member crhee8's Avatar
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    I read that Sentinel and Infiltrator are the ways to go especially on the harder difficulties. But right now I'm playing as adept on normal because I loved singularity in ME1. But unfortunately, singularity seems to be way nerfed in this game, so I may immediately jump to a higher difficulty level with a different class.
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    Quote Originally Posted by crhee8 View Post
    I read that Sentinel and Infiltrator are the ways to go especially on the harder difficulties. But right now I'm playing as adept on normal because I loved singularity in ME1. But unfortunately, singularity seems to be way nerfed in this game, so I may immediately jump to a higher difficulty level with a different class.
    Exactly my reason for not liking my Adept that much. Singularity just isn't as good as it once was.
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    Recreational Alcohol User Ntruder's Avatar
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    I'm betting Adept is virtually useless on hardcore or harder, everyone has multiple shields and biotics don't work againts certain types.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ntruder View Post
    I'm betting Adept is virtually useless on hardcore or harder, everyone has multiple shields and biotics don't work againts certain types.
    Surely Adept is not completely useless. They still have a pistol and smg. :D
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    Quote Originally Posted by crhee8 View Post
    Surely Adept is not completely useless. They still have a pistol and smg. :D
    I dunno man, Hardcore is tough and Insanity is, well... Insanity. The tech powers Sentinals have is the only way I've made it through many parts on Hardcore
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ntruder View Post
    I dunno man, Hardcore is tough and Insanity is, well... Insanity. The tech powers Sentinals have is the only way I've made it through many parts on Hardcore
    Have you tried out a Engineer for the hard stuff?
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    Quote Originally Posted by Disco Batman View Post
    Have you tried out a Engineer for the hard stuff?
    Nope. Played Normal/Vanguard, skipped Veteran, and now and playing Hardcore/Sentinal. Only about halfway through.... Not playing much lately due to Bioshock/Bioshock 2, and I'm currently revisiting a few older games, ODST, FarCry 2, and Half Life 2 (for the 9 thousandth time)
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ntruder View Post
    Nope. Played Normal/Vanguard, skipped Veteran, and now and playing Hardcore/Sentinal. Only about halfway through.... Not playing much lately due to Bioshock/Bioshock 2, and I'm currently revisiting a few older games, ODST, FarCry 2, and Half Life 2 (for the 9 thousandth time)
    Yeah it's tough prioritizing game play. I've gotta knock out ME2 then I'm not sure what I'll play to bide my time till FFXIII.
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