on May 30, 2011
If Mass Effect 1 got the ball rolling on high ended videogame storytelling, then Mass Effect 2 is an indestructible meteor. BioWare has taken all the best parts of the original game and streamlined the experience, while upping the ante on plot and character development tenfold. Mass Effect 2 picks up right where the original game left off. It's impossible to even mention here, as any single sentence would unearth a severe spoiler. Rest assured, ME2 revisits old teammates from the first game, while introducing an entire handful of new ones with distinctly vivid personalities and backgrounds. The narrative progression is a paradigm shift from the already lauded original, by far.
BioWare takes several of the original's elements and turns them upside down, just for the hell of it. Due to extenuating circumstances, Commander Shepard is no longer a whitewashed Alliance hero, but a wild card with questioning loyalties. As the dreaded Reaper threat looms ever closer to horrifying reality, Shepard (and indeed, the player) is forced to play by a looser set of rules, culminating in difficult moral and ethical choices. Mass Effect 1 introduced players to the concept of extreme consequences depending on their choices throughout the game. In Mass Effect 2, it can literally be a life or death experience, with certain choices leading to very disastrous consequences. It should be noted that like the original, both Mass Effect 2 and some of its downloadable content will have direct repercussions on the outcome of the upcoming Mass Effect 3. Players who completed the original ME can import their save data into ME2 and retain their personality traits, skills, and consequences of past decisions.
There was some criticism about the original PC release's graphical issues. While pretty, the game did suffer from an uncharacteristically low FPS (even on powerful machines), and some textures were blurred. Mass Effect 2 tosses all of this out the door. Not only is it running on a prettier version of the Unreal engine, but it's leaps and bounds more beautiful, clear, sharp and refined. Environments are brilliantly modeled and constructed on the back of inspired and talented art direction. Weapon and armor looks like nothing else at all, and character models are just gorgeous to look at. There's no issue with the visual aspect of the game. Naturally, it's on PC, so expect it to look radiant at all times at higher resolutions.
As before, ME's sound is in tip top form. The composers of the score have dialed down the synthesizer effects in favor of a slightly more classical sound without sounding too drastically different. Sound effects have been upgraded (and in some cases, completely reworked). It's a bit of a jar on the ears if you've just finished ME1 and jumped straight into ME2, but the tone, reverb and crystalline clarity is breathtaking. I have to admit, it sounds like a dream. Voice acting is, once again, terrific. In fact, it bowls over ME1 completely. This is a testament to the new characters in the game who sport admittedly brighter and more vibrant personalities than before. Michael Beattie's portrayal of Mordin Solus is quite simply the best voice acting I've heard in quite a long time, and a joy to listen to. BioWare managed to snag Martin Sheen for the role of the Illusive Man, and as expected, he delivers. There's quite simply no one better to voice a character so deeply steeped in grey. Old faces also return, some more prominent than others. Liara T'Soni's return is limited in scope, but the downloadable "Lair Of The Shadow Broker" blows her story wide open at the seams in the best way possible, especially if you pursued a romantic relationship with her in the first game.
The control scheme has taken a hit, unfortunately. There's no slider for the Mouse setting, so expect your camera to whirl around in complete circles three times with the slightest left or right nudge. There is a "Low" setting for the Mouse, but it isn't enough to compensate you if you've set your Windows' mouse sensitivity a little higher than most. Players with DPI switches on their Mice will definitely appreciate them playing through this game! I was also disappointed at the inability to remap some keyboard functions, such as top row Number keys for weapons. All in all, I felt more restricted in what I was allowed to do. That being said, the menus are relatively easy to navigate, and the addition of twin keys to quickly order squad mates individually wherever I want them makes combat a far more streamlined experience. The ability to hop over objects you've taken cover behind is a plus as well, and opens up a whole new layer of battle tactics.
As before, story is the real reason you'll play Mass Effect, and the sequel is leaps and bounds beyond the original in terms of complexity, scope, and freedom. You can now pursue one of several romantic relationships with squad mates, but more importantly, you must actually gain their loyalty by helping them excise their personal demons. As you do, you'll learn to appreciate the wonderful depth that the BioWare writers have put into these characters. They're the farthest thing from stock cannon fodder as you can possibly get, and the variety of personality types is a plus. Psychotics, Justicars, Soldiers, Security Operatives, Warlords, Mercenaries...they're all here for you to get to know. The game also sports the most jaw-dropping and terrifying final Boss battle ever conceived for a videogame. That scene alone is worth the price of play through!
With Mass Effect 3 on the horizon, now's the time to play through Mass Effect 2, and indeed the original if you haven't already done so. Both games are 2/3 of an experience that I personally cannot wait to experience in full.