Mass Effect 2
Xbox 360
Reviewed: 02/07/10

Mass Effect 2, Bioware’s next installment in the successful Space Opera Action RPG franchise, begins soon after the events of the first game. With Commander Shepherd sent off on a mission to clean up some of the Geth, synthetic robot like creatures with advanced AI, it later appears to be more for political purposes than need. However, on this mission a mysterious ship appears destroying you ship, the Normandy, and casting you out into the vastness of space. Thus is the start of Mass Effect 2.

Mass Effect 2 has the interesting feature of being able to import the original character over to the second installment, for players who have beaten the first Mass Effect. Importing a previous character affects much of the beginning storyline and paths that the character is lead down, as the impact from the decisions made in the previous game are now bearing their consequences. Decisions large and small can have an impact in the new game, as one might revisit a minor character from the first game that may offer little side quests, further developing the story or character depth. Throughout the game Bioware has done an excellent job making the universe feel like a living, breathing place that is bigger than just what you’re seeing. It’s somewhere players will want to explore.

The plot as it unravels is quite well written and better than most games out there today. However this section of the plot has the very distinct feeling of being the second of three acts. The reasons for which everything was set into motion towards the beginning didn’t feel as though it had the proper gravitas to justify some of the steps that came afterwards. And the ending felt very open-ended it its attempt to allow for a third installment. Everything in the middle was mostly very well done and incredibly fun to play and explore. By and large the character background and development for most of the characters was well written, but the build up of assembling a posse to go into the great unknown, while incredibly enjoyable and well scripted, did not provide a sense of urgency one would think you should have in such dire circumstances. Nevertheless, one thing the story does masterfully is set up the plot for its third act. The gamer is left wanting more at the end, which is rarely a bad thing. Just the feeling of non-closure keeps nagging.

Screen Shot
I like blue butts
and I cannot

Gameplay is the shining jewel in Mass Effect 2’s crown. Much fuss was made about the original Mass Effect not having the best controls when it couldn’t decide whether or not it wanted to be an action game or an RPG, but Mass Effect 2 comes strongly down on the side of action. Devs have streamlined the character creation and leveling process so that after one’s initial class is chosen, then those five class skills (plus an optional sixth received from loyal crew mates) are all one has to invest skill points in. There are currently 19 different weapons total, broken up into different classes. Now any class with access to a weapon can use that weapon with full effect from the start without the need to put any skill points towards it, as there are no longer and weapon-specific skill traits. Armor skills and armor restrictions have also been removed from the game as well as grenades.

Another nod to it becoming more of an action oriented title is the removal of “medi-gel” as a healing agent, used, instead, to revive fallen shipmates, with your shields and health regenerating after a time without damage much like a common third-person shooter. None of these removals or streamlining are a knock to the game. Bioware has expertly recognized where they had some bloating in the system and have created a very tight controlled gameplay experience which is quite fun to play and could stand up to many other action only games, even without the sizeable plot of Mass Effect 2.

The graphics in Mass Effect 2 are gorgeous. There are a greater number and variety of character animations in the second as compared to first game and the extra amount of detail shows. It is one of the most eye-candy delicious games, currently. But even more appealing to me was the audio. Too often voice acting in games is pathetic at best. Even when done by professionals or known entities, it often sounds as though they’re just phoning it in or have little context for which they’re putting their acting in. Not so with Mass Effect 2. The voice acting was spot on, with my favorite easily being Martin Sheen as the “Illusive Man.” But many others also show their professionalism with the excellent quality of acting.

Screen Shot
Man in serious need of some moisturizer

With the great gameplay, the multiple classes and then many big decisions a player has to make during the course of the game, one can easily see people playing through this two or three times in order to experience as much as possible. Exploring the galaxy is grand fun, and don’t worry, that annoying warthog vehicle from the first game no longer makes an appearance. And most planetary missions you found now can be completed in less than 10 minutes to make for short and sweet gaming.

Looking back on Mass Effect 2 and comparing it to the first, I am struck with a couple of realizations. Though I still stand behind my review of the first I must admit I had a little hubris in my rating. That said I do believe the first was an exceptional experience, but Mass Effect 2, even with its lesser plot than the first (as is often the case in middle acts), is a better game. It’ simply fun to just play and never feels like a chore, except with loading screens on the Normandy 2….

I would heartily recommend players of the first to play the second title without reservation, especially with a saved game from the first; and those new to the franchise will likely enjoy the game as well, but may not be aware of all the context or connections from the first to the second. So try checking out the original as well. Mass Effect 2 in total was a compelling game, an improvement upon its elder, and am exciting setup for the franchise’s next act.

-Michael Wayland

Score Breakdown
Out of 10
See our Review Criteria
Gameplay Excellent
Story Very Good
Graphics Great
Sound/Music Excellent
Replay Value Great
The Verdict: Excellent