In a holiday season highlighted by a pileup of blockbuster sequels, Mass Effect 2 is a game that still manages to stand out among its peers. Mass Effect 1 wowed RPG and shooter fans alike with its exceptional presentation and compelling story. While the gameplay was sturdy, it certainly didn’t blow anyone away. Its sequel looks bring its gameplay up to snuff with the other aspects of the game, while bringing the whole game forward. Spoilers for ME1 are abound here, so look away if you don’t want them.
Mass Effect 2 picks up two years after its predecessor. Shepard has taken out Saren, but the threat of the Reapers still looms large. Humanity has moved up the ranks of the Alliance thanks to Shepard’s efforts, but the galaxy-straddling colonization effort is still having a great deal of trouble. Entire human colonies are disappearing, and Shepard has to find out the cause. The story is still largely under wraps, but some over-arching details are out and about. One of the most important things is that ME2 allows you to import your ME1 save file into the game, and the decisions you made, both the big ones (killing or not killing Wrex, saving Ashley or Kaiden) and seemingly small ones, can make a difference in how the ME2’s story plays out. Another important factoid is that the game’s story revolves around a “suicide mission” that Shepard and crew are eventually sent on. There are loads of possibilities for how this can play out, and it is stressed by Bioware’s crew that, indeed, there will be blood.
The game seeks to make the Mass Effect universe both more accessible and more vibrant. While the first game in the series promoted this broad, expansive universe that you were free to explore, it was bogged down with brutal menus and inconsequential exploration. Mass Effect 2 fixes this up a bit on both fronts. Space exploration now actually involves manually moving the Normandy (that’s Shepard’s ship, if you don’t remember) around the universe. Also, the entire system of mineral collection has been expanded. Instead of simply exploring random worlds, stumbling upon a deposit of precious metals and getting a fistful of cash from the magic RPG fairy, the discovery of a gold mine or a deposit of uranium actually impacts the game’s economy. The development of the universe also added some extra flavor to the story. Mass Effect 2 adds several new locales to spice up a somewhat hollow universe. On top of familiar locales, new residences will be added, on top of the home worlds for various alien species and the Omega Space Station, a lawless foil to the Citadel.
The story and environment aren’t the only things that will be expanded. The gameplay follows suit, as well. Mass Effect 2 actually pulls the game closer to the shooter genre than it previously was, adding things like area-specific damage (and the ability to blast/blow/chop off limbs) and a refined ammo system (it actually has ammo now…sorta). There is greater weapon diversity as well. While the original had precisely four weapons types that all handled exactly the same (save an inverse proportion between power and the time it takes to overheat), ME2 has far more weapon types and even within these overarching types, the individual weapons can handle differently. For example, there are pistols that handle like a standard 9mm with a relatively large clip and moderate stopping power, but there are also magnum-type weapons with only a few shots, but massive damage. While RPG fans may be wary of these changes, rest assured that Bioware is keeping the game’s stats, level-ups and upgradeable techs intact.
On top of all this, Mass Effect 2 also gets a fresh coat of paint in the aesthetics department. The graphics are markedly improved, with better textures and an abandonment of the distinct graininess of Mass Effect 1. While Mass Effect 1’s presentation was widely hyped, the characters were best described as “rigid” during conversations. The great news is that characters are no longer locked in a stare-down while talking, and you will even have the opportunity to interject into these conversations yourself in “paragon” or “renegade” moments, where Shepard can stop somebody mid-sentence to either support them or beat them down. The recently-revealed voice acting cast is legitimately impressive in its own right, featuring A-lister Martin Sheen (star of Apocalypse Now) and other notables like Michael Dorn (Worf from Star Trek: The Next Generation) and Carrie-Anne Moss (who played Neo’s paramour, Trinity, in the Matrix movies), in addition to the return of Seth Green and Keith David.
Mass Effect 2 is shaping up to be an early contender for one of 2010’s best games, and Bioware is committed to build on an already solid game. The game is slated for Jan. 26, 2010 and there are all sorts of pre-order bonuses for all you anxious gamers. You can check out the game’s official website here, and make sure to check out MyGamer for more details as they become available.