Review: Mass Effect 2
- — 29 March, 2010 23:00
On the borders of charted space, something is abducting entire human colonies. As Commander Shepard, tracking down the perpetrators and bringing those colonists home falls to you. Without backup from the galactic council, you’re forced to work with Cerberus: a pro-human organisation with a history of callous experiments and anti-alien terrorism.
Mass Effect 2 opens two years after the events of the original game, placing you in charge of a veritable suicide mission. To make it out alive you’ll need to recruit a team of the most intelligent, skilled and dangerous operatives the galaxy has to offer. A few old faces are joined by many new characters, each with their own talents and motivations. Their personalities are truly three-dimensional and the voice acting is superb, making it hard not to feel genuinely fond of your virtual teammates.
The story is structured similarly to Mass Effect 1, with a relatively linear plot supported by countless open-ended assignments. Taking on every side mission I could find, my first play-through took just under fifty hours. With many paths to follow and a range of character classes to play as, you’ll have to replay the game several times to make the most of all the content.
If you’ve finished the original game, you can import your saved games into Mass Effect 2 and continue the journey with your existing Commander Shepard. Your appearance remains the same – this is particularly nice if you spent hours making yourself a custom Shepard the first time around, as you’ll be able to start playing right away with that familiar face. The decisions you made in the first game have a real impact on the second, as decisions you make in Mass Effect 2 will flow through to Mass Effect 3. That is, assuming you survive the suicide mission.
Although primarily an RPG, Mass Effect 2 boasts a strong and intuitive combat system. This is uncommon for the genre, in which combat is often clunky and over-dependent on a character’s skill set. First Person Shooter fans won’t feel like they’re playing with mittens on, even in the toughest combat situations. Don’t worry, RPG purists – you still earn experience points to be spent on skills and abilities, many of which can turn the tide of a battle without firing a shot.
The skill system is straightforward: you don’t need to study the game for a year to make the most of your character’s experience points. You can even reassign spent points for a price, allowing you to change your specialisations as the mission progresses.
Level design is brilliant, with unique and richly detailed environments throughout. This is a huge improvement over the original game, where most side-missions took place in one of just four different maps. You won’t see any such repetition in Mass Effect 2, where stepping off the ship always reveals a shiny new vista.
There are a few minor bugs, particularly around collision detection: when navigating particularly uneven terrain or indoor environments, I sometimes found myself climbing onto obstacles only to become helplessly trapped there. Apart from this and two crash-to-desktops in my fifty hours, I experienced no other problems. For a new release of this scale and depth, Mass Effect 2 is remarkably well tested and debugged. Expect various patches to appear, but you don’t have to wait on “the first big fix” before getting into the game.
Overall, Mass Effect 2 is a must-have for any RPG fan. The experience is greatly enhanced by having played the original, so be sure to pick up a copy. A third instalment will complete the series, with plenty of downloadable content for the first two games available in the meantime.