Mass Effect 2 Review

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Mass Effect 2 Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: BioWare (EA)

Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC
Reviewed on Xbox 360

Even death can't stop Commander Shepard from saving the galaxy. A well-funded human group with extremist beliefs has reconstructed and reanimated Shepard, providing him a ship and crew with which to face humanity's latest threat. The entire population of human colonies is disappearing in a series of events that seem tied to the Reaper threat that may well devour sentient life in the Milky Way. With the help of allies of all races from across the galaxy, Shepard sets out to face the incoming Reapers himself.

Kyle Ackerman

Mass Effect 2From the moment I loaded up Mass Effect 2 and started trying to get the thing to work, I really wanted to loathe the game. I couldn't. BioWare once again pulled off that special magic that keeps me buried in the plot and my thumbs glued to the controller analog sticks. I had to jump through more hoops than a Sea World dolphin to import my character from Mass Effect, but I did. I faced every mercenary, rogue droid, and apocalyptic menace in the galaxy with the game's plodding, third-person, cover-based battled, but I left none standing. I even coped with a tedious planet-scanning mini-game that had me mining worlds for resources, but I doubt I left a single deposit of element zero lay untouched anywhere in the galaxy. Why? So that I could experience a rich space-opera set in a universe saturated with detail.

A Born Leader and Good Friend (or Snarky Bastard)

Mass Effect 2Humanity's place in the galactic order may be precarious, but as Commander Shepard, anyone playing Mass Effect 2 gets to be at the center of it all, whether it's preventing the Reapers from exterminating all human life, or helping a Krogan explore his interest in sushi. That's what makes Mass Effect 2 the ultimate game for a certain type of gamer. It's a chance to explore every corner of the Milky Way galaxy (within a few light-years of a Mass Relay) and explore tales both petty and epic. For me, minor irritations weren't enough to keep me from stopping at every world and habitable moon and listening to the tortured backgrounds of my comrades-in-arms.

BioWare has a marvelous talent for making me care about its characters, and Mass Effect is no exception. When forced to assign compatriots to specific roles in the final suicide mission, I found my decisions were based on my impression of their character and resolve, not any effort to optimize game outcomes. I knew which character felt like the right sapient for the job. That's what makes Mass Effect 2 worth playing. That and the level of detail hiding in the corners and the crevasses. How could I not appreciate interactive kiosks on Citadel station with personalized ads for payday loans and online education? One souvenir shop even offered a space hamster for sale (I presume it was a miniature giant space hamster named Boo).

Commencing Scan...

That's not to say the game is without irritations. The biggest inconvenience was that it took me nearly two hours to get started, thanks to my efforts to import a character from the first game. Apparently, it's not enough to have the right save file on your Xbox 360. It has to be the same Xbox 360, so if you (like me) have had to replace your console, expect to replay the conclusion of Mass Effect. I understand the restriction, but it would have been nice if it hadn't taken me so long to learn about the problem. A more specific error message would have gone a long way toward cooling my anger. Fortunately, Mass Effect 2 is a long game, so the lost time ultimately felt like a drop in the bucket, even if it meant I finally launched the game already exasperated.

Mass Effect 2The other major irritation was the planetary-scanning mini-game. Certain resources are genuinely critical to saving humanity, and that means strafing a cursor around various worlds while holding down a controller trigger, looking for blips that indicate resource deposits. It's petty and irritating. It seems like a response to the original game where some didn't like driving around various worlds, but it's more like a different sort of poison. Just like the hacking and tech-related mini-games, they're simple and too repetitive to be anything more than a minor delay between unraveling the story, exploring the universe and the plentiful battles. At least the elevator rides are gone, and inventory management has been dramatically streamlined.

Combat, too, is hardly deep. It requires neither the twitch reflexes of a traditional third-person shooter, nor the careful planning of a tactical, turn-based combat game. It's a casual, mildly tactical, exercise that serves to provide tension and a feeling of urgency to the storyline. On the highest difficulty setting, it's an irritation, but on any other difficulty, it's something to break up the story. The only exception is the ridiculous final boss battle, which feels more like something out of a Terminator-themed shovelware title than a climactic battle. At least I could converse with the crew afterwards and have them praise me for saving the universe. That's far more satisfying than just having the credits roll and the screen go dark once and for all.

Famous Talent Barely Makes the "Additional Voices" Listing

As with its predecessor, Mass Effect 2's strength is more than its writing and setting. It's also the game's superior production values. The sound and art direction are superb. The art is particularly impressive, in that worlds feel substantially different. The game has its share of generic starfaring corridors, but it also has planets that range from the decadent Illium to the shattered Tuchanka. Even hidden missions (found only by scanning planets) can have some spectacular and unique settings. That range is matched by the depth of the voice acting talent, bringing to life the diverse characters on Shepard's ship.

Mass Effect 2I know I seem to have a lot of complaints about a game that I so passionately enjoyed, but my biggest complaint is the least specific. This isn't the place to debate appropriate pricing for content, but after completing the game, I felt like I'd gotten so much less game than I did in the original Mass Effect. I still felt satisfied, but so much of the downloadable content left me feeling cheated. Subjectively, some of the extra modules felt far too expensive without enough supporting content. The entire division between the original game and the premium, downloadable content left me feeling unsatisfied and unclear as to the relationship between my wallet and the game world.

All complaints aside, Mass Effect 2 was still a spectacular journey through a colorful galaxy with an inky-black shadow.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on May 21, 2011 1:42 PM.

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