K, so this is me, being a nerd and writing up another video game review. If you haven’t read these before, that’s cuz I’ve posted on myspace… remember myspace? That other website that you kept checking at work when your boss wasn’t looking… yeaaa you do! Well anyway, I’m just very very compelled to write a review for Mass Effect 2. FYI, there might be spoilers, because once I start going, I keep going. But I’ll certainly do my best to at least label the spoilers for you to skip with a ***blah blah blah***.


So, here we go…

Mass Effect 2, the latest installment for a game trilogy developed by Bioware. Mass Effect 1 was somewhat revolutionary for a game, in the sense that it was a nice mix of RPG and shooter style game play, along with a very compelling story that is altered with a “choose your own adventure” twist. These undertones are continued into the sequel with a few improvements, hiccups and debatable cuts and add ons.


Gameplay: Probably the most debatable category I’m going to mention, because unfortunately it is very difficult to tailor a game to all types of gamers, but here’s my two cents…
Pros: They’ve improved the overall feel of the shooter side of the game. Firing a weapon feels a lot better. Grabbing cover is more comfortable than the first game. You have 3 powers quick-mapped to your buttons as oppose to just the one in the previous game. The new powers that different classes possess are pretty freakin awesome. There’s even some flexibility and gaining new powers and weapons that your class technically “shouldn’t” have… course, that comes at a price, and is limited. You can “sort of” climb to higher levels, instead of being stuck on the same ground level. They’ve removed the grenades, which is always sad, but at least it’s substituted with heavy artillery, such as missle launchers. Sprinting is a bit more useful and necessary than ME1. There are more reasons for encouraging a player to switch their weapon to whatever is more appropriate to the situation. They’ve added customizable armor and clothing. You have the ability to upgrade weapons, armor and even the Normandy itself. Commanding your squad is much much easier than before. You can send squad member to different flanks, something that was available on the PC version of ME1, but not the xbox 360. The AI is a bit better in combat as well… though still dumbasses that liked to stand in your way all the time when you’re in casual exploration areas, like the Citadel or other cities. They’ve added a quick map and an objective navigation guide to help you when you’re lost. They’ve made hacking computers and surveying planets a bit more entertaining, but that comes at a price when you read the con-side to things.

Cons:
-Though they’ve improved the shooter-style part of the game, they’ve taken out several elements that made it an RPG… to the point that it’s heartbreaking! First thing I thought when pausing the game, “Where the fuck is my equipment menu?!?!?” They’ve replaced weapon customization with “UPGRADES,” and you can only make these upgrade changes when your in your ship. If you want more bang in your shotgun, you gotta find the research to do it and pay the resources for it, but you can’t change it after wards, although most of these upgrades are applied to all of your squad. The type of ammo you have for your gun is determined by the class your character is. Also, I did mention customizable armor, which is kind of cool and not cool at the same time. You only get new armor pieces, not full suits. So, you have to mix and match, upgrade and buy pieces to make your armor to where you want it, no biggy, but it’s just way more pricier. Also, you can’t give your squad members new armor. I guess the biggest thing is there’s NO STAT NUMBERS anywhere! Jeebus! When you look at the statements on a gun you just got, they tell you all this crap that you don’t really need to know, which makes it kind of difficult for you to choose whether or not you want it. And it’s important to know if you want a certain gun on a mission or not, because there’s a good chance you won’t be able to change it once you start your mission. All I want to know is, how much ammo does it hold, how much damage it does when shooting, what’s it’s range and accuracy. I just want numbers! Don’t tell me that “once upon a time, green aliens on mars built this gun that is now used a lot by brown aliens because they like the ‘pew pew pew’ noise it made.” Seriously, who cares? Maybe some crazy sci-fi nerds, but I’m here to play a game/watch a movie. Oh, and a last note about customization, skills and abilities and cut down to a very short list for both you and your squad members. Say good bye to skill points, and say hello to squad points. Now you’ll have to learn how to save up your points to purchase certain skills you want, and you don’t a variety to choose from like the previous game. That was my favorite part! Lame-o’s.
-I mentioned that you switch weapons a lot more, as oppose to favoring just one gun, but a big reason for that tends to be due to the fact that your RUN OUT OF AMMO! Yes, that’s right, you have ammo now, and need to constantly be looking for it. Personally, I don’t like having to frantically look around for ammo, but, I could see the extra challenge being appealing to some, and encouraging the player the try other weapons or powers to take down an enemy.
-I mentioned the surveying of planets. Well, in ME1, all you had to do is hit a button and the scanning is done for you, and you find elements automatically. In ME1 it was kind of pointless to find elements because they had no use besides perhaps earning you a little bit of money and if you find enough, gaining an achievement. Now, they have a planet scanning system. Not the funest thing in the world, but the elements you find matter and you get to purchase your upgrades with the goods you find. Now, I’m all for replacing the “planet surveying” with the new “planet scanning” system, HOWEVER, it seems they replaced, if not all then most, of planet exploration all together. They’ve made the universe a lot bigger, lot more systems and a lot more planets… BUT what’s the point if all you can’t land on any of them and drive around (with the Mako) checking out the terrain and inhabitants. I’m guessing they took that out because of players complaining about it. Bad choice though, cuz they replaced it with something more mundane and tedious.. the planet scanner!. If the planet scanner is to replace the survey system, then yay! If they expect it to replace exploration of planets in general, BOO!!! If there are more planets to explore beyond the ones that have missions attached to them, I haven’t found any, and I finished the game.
-Powers. The new powers are pretty freakin cool, but they removed a lot of the old ones that I’ve grown attached too and miss dearly. I kind of feel that a lot of the biotics lost their power and are more reliant on their weapon wielding abilities. If you’ve played ME1, you know Liara was freakin crazy… spinning 8 guys into the air and all.
-UI (User Interface) or HUD (Heads Up Display) has it’s issues. They’ve cleaned up the screen, leaving almost no UI to be seen, which can be nice, but can also be annoying. Your shields and health are organic and ever changing. They’ve ditched the omni-gel/med-pack healing system that was in ME1, and just have a constant regeneration healing system, something that’s seen often shooters. With this new system, it’s difficult to tell how much damage you’re taking on until you’re already at a critical stage. Which the screen then turns read with some crappy tree-roots or veins spiderwebbing the screen, making your chances of surviving even less likely cuz you can’t see where you’re going or what’s shooting at you. I personally prefer the old method of omni-gel/med-pack healing, along with the original life bar and shields bar. It also was easier to read when it came to my other squad members. In ME2, I couldn’t tell my other squad members were hurt until they were already dead. That almost never happened when for me in ME1, because I was constantly aware of my squad member status. Also, they have a map and navigation system which is pretty nifty, though with the nice level design done, it’s not really necessary. Things I’m missing though is the old enemy radar scanner that let you knew how many enemies and where their locations were on a radar screen. Knowing things were clear when there were no more red dots.

Graphics:
Some mixed feelings about the graphics, but though it might sound like I’m nit-picking, that’s because I am! Ha! If something looks great in general, of course you’re gonna have to nit pick! Anywho, one thing I’ve noticed is they finally got that evil bug fixed! Well, for the most part anyway. In ME1 there was this terrible bug that had textures (mainly normal maps) popping into any new scene a couple seconds too late. It didn’t ruin ME1, but it was incredibly annoying. Well, they’ve fixed it, though later on in the final stages of the game I’ve noticed a few texture pops here and there, but only briefly and no where near as distracting as it was before. Pretty much, something that might as well go unnoticed. Looks like lighting and rendering has a more finished look than ME1 did, though I’ve noticed… it seems that the characters have higher amounts of polys than the first game, but lower resolution diffuse maps (colored textures). I’m seeing a lot more jaggies and pixilation in upclose textures than I remember in the first one, but I can only speculate that maybe they dropped the resolutions in textures to perhaps fix the texture popping issue, as stated earlier? Perhaps, but who really knows, besides Bioware. On another note, if the first game had a theme color, it would be a Cyan/bluish color.. with ME2, they’ve really embraced the orange. Everything seems to be washed with an undertone of orange, and all of UI/HUD and loading images are predominantly orange. I don’t have a problem with it, just thought I should mention it. It gives the game a warmer and darker tone to it. And by dark, I mean it just seems more “serious” than futuristic feeling that electric blue had. Meh, whatever, at least it’s not like “300”.. haha, “Madness? THIS… IS…SHEPARDDD!!!!” I also noticed they’ve added a lot more particles into the atmosphere. Fog, smoke and even floating dust specks. The new worlds you go to, even just standing in the Normandy looking out to space, is just amazing to the point that it’s distracting! I can’t NOT stop and look around and the detail that they put into the environments. Even just looking up into the sky, seeing a couple of moons about to pass a blue sun is just awesome and somewhat jaw-dropping. Overall, I like the new look.

Levels:
For the most part, everything seems bigger and better (cept the Citadel). Even the Normandy is a lot larger, though kind of annoying, in the sense that it’s so big, and you have to frequently talk to your crew members that are scattered on the different floors.. that’s a lot of elevator rides you have to go through. Oh and by the way, you silly silly elevator haters, you! Bioware got a lot of crap from gamers complaining about the long elevator trips your character would take. Well, now they took those out, but you have to watch a stupid loading sequence of the elevator going up and down every single time. I feel it disrupts game flow and is less entertaining than having your character(s) in the elevator. Back to my mentioning of the Citadel, ok, well I’ll give them credit that they at least mentioned that it was still being rebuilt from the attack from Sovereign in the first game, but my goodness. Sometimes I feel the Normandy is bigger than the Citadel. That and there’s not much to do there. I quickly bought out all of the stores the first time I visited. The club has nothing of interest there, unless you want to see raving asari, and they don’t have glow sticks! What a crime! The Citadel’s only saving grace is ***you can buy a space hamster! Yep that’s right, a space hamster. Though, he doesn’t really do much once you own him, but the little squeak he makes puts a smile on my face each time. Whatever, make fun of my if you want, but it’s a freakin SPACE HAMSTER!!! Aka SPACE AWESOMSTER!!!*** Oh, I do have a little bit of a beef though with combat levels… a lot of the times, because they’ve tuned your character to look for cover constantly, that it sometimes bites you in the ass. Like if you’re in the critical zone of getting killed and you trying to back away from your enemies, but you die anyway, because you’ve got hung up on all the geometry that’s around Shepard that’s meant to be used as cover, that or, you grab cover, but Shepard locks onto the wrong side of the block you’re trying to hide behind, and you get killed. For the most part, that’s 90% of the reasons why I died. *sigh* Oh well, I’m not a programmer, so besides just being careful when you play, I don’t see much that they can do about that.


Characters:
Lots of new characters! Characters Galore! Some more interesting than others, though I end up still loving my original friends (from ME1) the most. The voice actors are amazing, and many recognizable voices, for instance Martin Sheen. You have many characters to choose from in your squad, although choosing them is not as simples as it use to be. They’re defined by the skills/powers they possess, the weapons they can handle and their level of loyalty towards you. Gaining loyalty in a character means extra side missions, with bonuses from that character once they are “loyal” to you.*** A lot more romance options than the first game, even with some characters from the first game! You might want to converse with the Dr. Mordin about cross-species intercourse, as well. His advice is simply golden comedy. On another case, there’s one character though that stands out like a sore thumb. A merc named Zaeed. There’s no point of him being there. He doesn’t have much of a back story and meeting him was no effort like all the other characters. He’s pointless, and annoying. You don’t even really get to talk to him like all the other characters from your crew. But he’ll go on long-ass rants about his belongings. “oh, that’s my favorite gun, isn’t she a beaut! Blah blah blah blah.”***
The NPCs (Non-Playable Character) in this game are HILARIOUS. I recommend just walking around and standing next to some characters and eavesdrop on their conversation. For the most part, I find myself cracking up. So, walk around, explore, and keep an open ear for some entertainment!


Story: Mass Effect comes back with revenge and a darker persona. The over all theme to both story and graphics is much darker than its predecessor. Every character has a skeleton in their closet. There’s also a lot more blood, actually thinking about it… I don’t even remember there being any blood in the first game. The first game you’re mainly killing off machines (Geth). The second game there’s a lot of organic aliens and humans getting shot, shredded, bludgeoned, impaled ect. Writers are no longer restricting themselves and are letting loose on the dialogue. Character speech is more aggressive, and I’m not just talking about throwing in a few curse words here and there. The characters have an attitude, coldness and crass tone with and a strong desire to kick some ass… which they end up doing. Even all your beloved characters from the first game have a harsher outlook on life after the first game.
It’s amazing, seriously, utterly, amazing how seamless they’ve matched up the decisions you’ve made in ME1 work with ME2. Even decisions you’ve made somewhat subconsciously that you probably don’t even remember, get thrown in the churner of ME2 and ends up being a bigger impact on your mission than you could’ve ever predicted. You end up meeting A LOT of characters in ME2 that you previously interacted with in ME1, and depending on how you treated that character, they’ll be holding on to those fond memories, or bitter grudges in ME2. Now, it makes me wonder if I’ve made the right decisions in ME2 and what repercussions they’ll have ME3. Speaking of decision making, they aren’t all as clear cut as it use to be. Decisions are no longer black in white. ***In ME1, for the most part, the choices you made could easily predict the outcome, for example the choice of Ashley and Kaiden. Choosing who to rescue made an obvious outcome of the death of one of your crew. In ME2, however, it’s not as clear cut. Any one from your team can die, even yourself. It’s the string of little tiny decisions you make then will end up biting you in the end. Course, when I lost a crew member it was pretty upsetting for me, because it was completely out of my control and took me by surprise. But, as I said earlier, the writers are no longer restricting themselves. Their cutting themselves loose and taking no prisoners. Anything goes at this point. For that, though I’ll miss my dear squad member, it definitely adds drama, depth and reality to the story and the intensity of the battle. He/She will be missed.***
The big picture, ME2’s main story isn’t as compelling as ME1, but looking at it as a full trilogy, it still works, and is still great. Comparing the story from ME1 and ME2, ME1 keeps you tied in with every new and unfolding secrete and clue, trying to find your enemy. There were twists and every time you put down the game it was like a cliff-hanger. ME2 has some of those elements, but not as much and not as well developed. HOWEVER, Looking at ME1 and ME2 together, as whole… ME2 is only a setup for ME3. The calm before the storm, perhaps? I guess, looking back at 7th grade English class, you had the beginning, middle and end of the story. The beginning was the set up: introducing the main protagonists and antagonists, along with the basis of the plot; some exciting stuff. The middle: the journey, the action, the plot thickening, meeting new characters and new enemies that may or may not join the hero at the final countdown. The End: The “climax” of the story. The final battle, all questions answered, for M. Knight Shyamalan, this is where he throws in the twist. The conclusion, and closure. Pretty much what I’m expecting for ME3. Anyway, sorry about my tangent. As I was saying, ME2 is that “middle” part of the story. Lots more action, the new characters, a mini twist to the truth about your enemies and the preparation for the ultimate, final battle. Missions are kind of “bleh” because they feel more like “side projects” rather than growth for your main mission. Though they’re necessary, they don’t grow organically with the main story/mission at hand.
Though Bioware claims that this game is a stand-alone, and playing ME1 is not necessary… true, but for me, the story suffers, because it is that middle part with no real established beginning or ending. ME2 is an alright game, but playing ME1 makes it a great game. Playing ME2 without the first game feels like watching the second season to LOST without the first season. I DEFINITELY recommend playing ME1 BEFORE ME2. Why? Because your attachments to the characters (even your own character) and mission in the second game is much stronger when these relationships are built in the first. You get more excited when you see a character you recognize from the first game, as oppose to having to re-learn who they are if you haven’t played ME1. The missions that unfold in the second game that are based from the decisions made in the first, are now meaningless if you haven’t played ME1. Pretty much, you are detached from this already established world, and everything that resurfaces from the first game in the second has no weight to it. Please… play the first game before you pick ME2 up. And please… play ME2 before they release ME3.


Conclusion: I’ll try to keep this short and sweet. They took some things out that were in the first game with good intentions due to player feedback. However, some of the things they’ve replaced or substituted for the so called “issues” tend to be worse, or rather than improve the issues, they just completely removed them, making you miss the “good old days.” My biggest beef, the removal of so many elements that gave the game its RPG title, due to so much focus on the Shooter side. The things that were already great in the first game are bigger, better and flat out spectacular in ME2. Graphics improved, combat improved (though a bit disorienting at first), and 98% of the nasty bugs seen in ME1 are fixed. Over all, Mass Effect 2 is a pretty good game, but it mainly plays out as an awesome addition to the first game. Mass Effect 2 = alright… The Mass Effect series = epic. When Mass Effect 3 comes out, my xbox is going to burst into flames of awesome.

Have a good one,

Pri

Ps- sorry for any misspellings or word typos… this review is too long and I’m too lazy to proof-read. Heh. 😛

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